National | Oranga Tamariki

Ruthless-Empire homicide: Oranga Tamariki asked by whānau to uplift toddler, says agency ‘failed our Baby Ru’

The uncle of slain toddler Ruthless-Empire contacted Oranga Tamariki asking for him to be uplifted over significant concerns he had about the way he was treated, believing he was in “danger” as well as the “disgusting” conditions he was living in.

He believes the agency should have stepped in and done something, and feels they did not listen enough.

“They failed our Baby Ru,” he told the Herald.

Three people were staying at a home in Lower Hutt when the almost-two-year-old suffered fatal injuries from blunt force trauma, some time between October 21 and 22.

Ruthless-Empire Souljah Reign Rhind Shephard Wall was taken, unresponsive, to Hutt Hospital on October 22, up to 12 hours after receiving the severe injuries. The toddler, whose family asked for him to also be referred to by his maramatanga (enlightenment) name Nga Reo, was unable to be saved. Police are yet to make any arrests.

The Herald can now reveal the toddler’s uncle, Ngatanahira Reremoana, contacted Oranga Tamariki with concerns about Ruthless-Empire on December 26 last year.

The toddler had effectively been raised in Reremoana’s home where he lived with his mother, Sarah Reremoana, who was Ruthless-Empire’s great aunt.

In the email, titled “child in danger”, Ngatanahira Reremoana outlined his concerns claiming his nephew did not get the “well-deserved care he needs”.

“The house is in a disgusting condition for a toddler to be crawling around in,” he said. He alleged there were drugs at the address.

“I suggest he be uplifted asap...”

On January 10, an intake social worker replied to Reremoana. The staffer asked if the toddler was attending daycare, and whether any other services or agencies were involved with the whānau.

He also asked Reremoana to describe the living conditions. The staffer said they would wait to hear back for further information, but would probably be making a report and sending it through to another office close to the whānau.

“In the meantime, if there are any safety concerns that you are aware of … please call the police and ask for a welfare check, and they will be able to go and ascertain the safety of Ruthless.”

In response, Reremoana said Ruthless-Empire was not attending childcare and there were no other services involved.

He had recently travelled to where the toddler lived and claimed that he found him asleep on the floor among dirty washing. Reremoana alleged the room was “riddled with” flies and was humid with no windows open.

“The floors were black, carpets were dirty, there were dishes around his kai preparing area and the flies were the worst.

“I had woken him up from his sleep as I found it irritating watching him sleep on the floor and amongst the flies.

“He is always a happy boy but when he sees us, he always seems happier like he’s being rescued.”

He gave him lunch and that afternoon they told his parents they were taking him back to Taupō because they felt uncomfortable leaving him there.

The toddler stayed with them for a week before his parents came and collected him.

The Oranga Tamariki staffer replied he was sending a report of concern to the local office in Hamilton where further assessment would take place by a social worker.

Reremoana emailed the staff member again, on January 12, claiming he had been notified of an assault at the address and alleged that Ruthless-Empire was present at the premises at the time.

The last email from the staffer queried when the assault took place and whether the address he was at following the assault was long-term accommodation.

Reremoana told the Herald he went to Oranga Tamariki because they wanted what was best for Ruthless-Empire.

“It wasn’t safe for Ruthless.”

Reremoana’s mother had raised Ruthless-Empire for most of his life.

“We were all like playing pass the parcel with Ruthless,” he said.

There was a whānau hui on May 17 in Hamilton to discuss removing Ruthless-Empire from the toddler’s mother’s care. He said Oranga Tamariki told him over the phone it would not intervene without notification.

Sarah Reremoana ended up taking Ruthless and they had him until early July when he went back into his mother’s care.

Both Sarah Reremoana and her son called the police on July 2 and 3 to ask for welfare checks on Ruthless-Empire.

“They went there and they just said that everything was okay,” he said.

Ngatanahira Reremoana said Oranga Tamariki had discussed over the phone a parenting course for Ruthless-Empire’s mother and that there was support for her if she needed it, but he did not know if she did the course.

“They didn’t get back to me about the solutions that they had in place for Ruthless in regards for safety.”

Reremoana recalled the anger he felt on October 22 when the whānau received a message to say Ruthless-Empire was in hospital.

“Then when we got the phone call that he’d passed, that’s when everything just sunk in and we had no words to explain how we were feeling,” he said.

“It was just like we didn’t do enough to protect our baby. We didn’t fight hard enough.”

He believed Oranga Tamariki “failed our Baby Ru”, and did not feel like they listened to the whānau’s concerns.

“They could’ve stepped in and done a bit more.

“I think they should be held responsible for not intervening in this situation.”

The whānau were still coming to terms with the toddler’s killing, he said.

“As a whānau we are all strong together. We will stay strong for our Ru and we will get justice for our baby.”

Sarah Reremoana said Ruthless Empire’s mother was “coping okay”.

“We’re very lucky, she’s got a lot of support and family still around us as well. We’re just making sure she’s eating well. She’s very tired and very exhausted.”

Oranga Tamariki earlier confirmed the toddler did have an ID number in their case management system.

The number was generated every time a report of concern was made to Oranga Tamariki.

Chief executive Chappie Te Kani told the Herald that, like many New Zealanders, Ruthless-Empire’s “needless death” had “been weighing heavily on my mind”.

“Whenever a child is killed Oranga Tamariki staff feel it deeply. We are an organisation made up of thousands of social workers whose life focus is to care for tamariki and whānau.

“Again, I would like to acknowledge the grief Baby Ru’s whānau will be experiencing.”

Te Kani confirmed the toddler was not in Oranga Tamariki custody or care.

“However, we are actively working alongside our partner agencies to piece together what, if any, support Baby Ru and his whānau were receiving at the time of his death, and if interventions could have occurred.

“We are in the process of thoroughly reviewing every interaction and decision that was made in relation to Baby Ru and his whānau, with the oversight of our chief social worker Peter Whitcombe. We must protect everyone’s privacy and we are currently not able to go into details.”

Oranga Tamariki was working with police to support their investigation.

“While the investigation continues, we are very limited in what we can comment on publicly.”

A police spokeswoman confirmed there was a call for service for a welfare check in July.

“Police attended and no welfare concerns were noted during the visit.”

The Herald earlier revealed the three people living at the Taita, Lower Hutt house were Ruthless-Empire’s mother, Storm Angel Wall, as well as Rosie Morunga and her partner Dylan Ross.

Police earlier said they had three people of interest they were speaking to with “varying degrees” of engagement.

Detective Inspector Nick Pritchard said earlier the child had multiple injuries.

“This level of violence toward a child is difficult to fathom,” Pritchard said.

“He was an innocent child who should’ve been safe and loved, and should not have died as he did.”