Family of Baby Ru call for police update on homicide case

Ruth Hill for RNZ

It is five months on Friday since the little boy known as Baby Ru died at Hutt Hospital, after being taken there in a 20-year-old Nissan, already unconscious.

Ruthless-Empire Souljah Reign Rhind Shephard Wall - now officially named Nga Reo Te Huatahi Reremoana Ahipene-Wall - was just two days away from turning two at the time.

No-one has yet been charged over his death - the result of blunt force trauma to his head, either inflicted by a weapon or by slamming his tiny skull on a hard floor or table, according to police.

His great aunt, Sarah Jane Reremoana, who cared for him as a baby, told RNZ the lack of progress was frustrating for the whānau.

"We would like to know why it's taking the police so long to at least give us the family an update.

"Our hearts are shattered, especially not hearing from the police since early January."

The family's grief had been made worse by being abused and attacked online, she said.

They were now just "trying to stay focused" to get justice for their moko.

"He had many challenges from his birth being premature and he was a good little fighter.

"No matter what medical obstacles he had, Nga Reo was a good baby, [he] always had a smile, never wanted much, loved big hugs and kisses and he is missed so much."

Three 'persons of interest' in investigation

Following the autopsy, police upgraded their investigation into a homicide inquiry.

Detective Inspector Nick Pritchard, who is leading the investigation, held several media conferences to make public appeals for specific information.

As recently as February, police issued a further appeal for information and said they were "absolutely committed" to getting justice for Baby Ru.

Police confirmed there were three "persons of interest" in the house at the time the toddler was fatally injured. They were soon revealed as the child's mother (Storm Wall), another woman called Rosie Morunga and her partner Dylan Ross.

Social media lit up as both women - and others connected to them - posted different versions of events and made claims and counter-claims, some of which were picked up and reported in news stories.

Pritchard has said none of the three people in the house had given police "a full truthful account".

He was not available for an interview with RNZ this week.

Nor was anyone able to answer written questions, including whether investigators had received the results of a forensic analysis of exhibits sent to ESR earlier, if they were still actively searching for items from the crime scene, and whether they were getting cooperation from the three persons of interest.

A police spokesperson said there was "no update or additional information" that could be provided at this stage, other than what had been previously released.

'The worst of human nature'

Child Matters chief executive Jane Searle - herself a former police detective - said such cases were often extremely complicated due to the lack of cooperation from those involved.

"The expectation from the public is always that they want an arrest immediately, because these cases exhibit the worst of human nature.

"But the reality is they are very complex cases. They have to be proven to a high standard; they can be very detailed and can therefore take a long time."

Preventing such horrific cases in the first place was even more complex because it required increased focus on the issues that caused abuse and neglect - and that was going to take "years of investment", she said.

"The biggest thing that would make a difference right now is vigilance from the public: people educating themselves about the signs to look out for, so people know how to report suspected abuse and not being afraid to report.

"It's a big thing for people to pick up the phone and ring Oranga Tamariki when they have concerns.

"But we have to remember that children can't stop abuse, only adults can."

'The wheels of justice are turning too slowly'

Barrister Marie Taylor-Cyphers, whose master's thesis was on reducing the risk of child homicides, said cases involved a huge amount of medical information that needed to be "checked and rechecked".

"In terms of delay - which is the real issue here - it's just the lack of resourcing everywhere, from medical staff to police to counsels and delays in court time.

"And that's the real gripe - the wheels of justice are turning too slowly."

However, it was worth taking the time to ensure a charge could actually hold up in court, she said.

And the end result might not be a charge of murder.

"You might be able to present a defendant with a really clear-cut case as a prosecutor that whatever they did caused the death but they didn't mean to."

Timeline of events

  • 22 October 2023: Ruthless-Empire Souljah Reign Rhind Shephard Wall dies after arriving at Hutt Hospital with severe head injuries. The car that took him to hospital then returns to the house in Poole St, Taitā where he suffered those injuries. Before police can secure the scene, this vehicle makes three trips to and from the property, carrying "items of interest" to be dumped or destroyed.
  • 26 October: Police release Ru's name and announce the investigation has been upgraded to a homicide inquiry involving "three persons of interest".
  • 31 October: Oranga Tamariki says Baby Ru was not in their care or custody - but confirms it had received at least one "report of concern" about him.
  • 1 November: Oranga Tamariki announces plans to carry out a review into every interaction with and decision about Baby Ru and his whānau.
  • 2 November: Police make another appeal for public information.
  • 8 November: Rosie Morunga appears in Hutt Valley District Court on unrelated charges.
  • 10 November: Detective Inspector Nick Pritchard appeals to the public for sightings and CCTV footage of a silver Nissan Centra Sedan between 22 and 24 October. Ru's family apply to register his birth under the name Nga Reo Te Huatahi Reremoana Ahipene-Wall.
  • 11 November: Storm Wall makes a new statement to team of detectives who travel from Wellington to Taupō.
  • 14 November: Police announce they are looking for a security camera hard-drive used to record CCTV footage from the property.
  • 22 November: Nick Pritchard says police are waiting on toxicology results and forensic analysis on several items from house.
  • 4 December: Police reveal they are seeking a duvet cover, strap, hard-drive and power back up unit, which were deliberately removed from the scene.
  • 2 February 2024: Police issue a fresh appeal for information about the death of Baby Ru.
  • 7 February: Nick Pritchard tells RNZ police believe they know who got rid of vital evidence, but there is not enough information to charge them.