National | Crime

Kidnap victim Kayla Pawa wants to ‘forget this s*** ever happened and move on with my life’

Kidnap victim Kayla Pawa.

Warning: This story contains topics for a mature audience. Reader discretion is advised.

Wāhine Kayla Pawa - kidnapped and tortured for three weeks by Nomad gangster Carlos Harris before she escaped from the boot of a car - wants to move on with her life.

“I want to forget this s*** ever happened and move on with my life,” Pawa said to whānau.

Her whānau told the Herald that Pawa would get “plenty of ongoing support and aroha to get her back to the fun-loving person she once was”.

“Kayla knows she is loved,” whānau spokesman Michael “Wavee” Sweeney, said.

He said his niece is still suffering from the cruel and prolonged abuse dished out by Harris and others.

Wavee Sweeney and Sonny Fatupaito at a wananga, Waikeria Prison, in May 2024. Photo / Supplied

“What he [Harris] did to Kayla can never be taken back, but Kayla is rebuilding her life and she’s a tough wāhine and has the support of whānau and friends.

“Kayla is at a safe place and rebuilding her life.

“She knows she is loved.”

Sweeney, who is in Waikeria Prison, was convicted and sentenced to life for the 1987 murder of rival Black Power gang member Robert Paterson in Hamilton. He was released but recalled to Waikeria Prison in 2016 for breaching his lifetime parole.

He said since being back in jail, he has had plenty of time to look at his life, and only wants the best for his whānau, especially Pawa.

“I have spent years in jail thinking about how I ended up there for so long.

“I own my past and at least now Kayla and whānau can move on. I want only the best for Kayla she deserves so much more.”

Details of Pawa’s kidnapping and torture are chilling.

Harris kidnapped Pawa last June from the Massey home she was sharing with her new boyfriend. Harris believed Pawa’s partner could help him “obtain money” that he thought was owed to him, court documents obtained by the Herald said.

A group of men, including Harris broke into Pawa’s home on the night of June 12, 2023, and threatened her partner. They took Pawa with them when they left. She was moved between two homes in West Auckland over the next fortnight. She was then put in the boot of a car and moved to a home in Kohukohu, Northland, where she was threatened and forced to help “dig her own grave”.

Despite being abducted on June 12, police were not notified of the kidnapping until June 27, by her partner, two weeks after he watched Pawa taken away.

Police then launched a manhunt for Harris.

From Kohukohu, Pawa was moved to Whangārei, where she managed to escape from the boot of the car and flagged down a passing ambulance that took her to safety.

Whānau members rushed to Whangārei and then Auckland to support Pawa while she recounted her harrowing three weeks to police.

Carlos Harris at Waitakere District Court, charged with unlawfully taking away a woman without her consent with intent to cause her to be confined. Photo / Michael Craig / NZME

With his face on major news bulletins, Harris calmly handed himself into police a few days later and in a surprise recent move, pleaded guilty to kidnapping. The 34-year-old will be sentenced in September.

Sweeney has a message for Harris.

“You at least have done one thing right - pleaded guilty and now not having to deal with Kayla’s upset,” Sweeney said.

“But you will have plenty of time to think about your actions and how much hurt you have caused.

“I should know about hurt - I’m doing it now. I am a lifer and know what it’s like to be caged like an animal and I hope you feel that every day for the rest of your life.”

Wavee Sweeney, Kayla Pawa's favourite uncle.

Speaking through a whānau intermediary, Sweeney said when Pawa was first kidnapped, they all thought the worst as her disappearance coincided with that of other young Māori females missing including 18-year-old Ariki Rigby whose body was later found in the burned-out shell of a vehicle left in a Napier reserve. No one has been charged with Rigby’s murder.

“How many young Maori wāhine go missing and or end up dead?” Sweeney told his whānau.

“We were very blessed to get our girl home as kidnapping doesn’t usually end well.”

Sweeney speaks to whānau, including Pawa, as often as permitted.

Joseph Los’e is an award winning journalist who joined NZME in 2022 as Kaupapa Māori Editor. Los’e was a chief reporter, news director at the Sunday News newspaper covering crime, justice and sport. He was also editor of the NZ Truth and prior to joining NZME worked for urban Māori organisation Whānau Waipareira.

- NZ Herald