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Reflections on the Tragedy of Coral Burrows

Reflections on the Tragedy of Coral Burrows

By Marc Alexander MP

On Tuesday 23 September a small yellow coffin decorated with beautiful spring flowers made its way through Featherston from a memorial service at St. Teresa's Catholic Church, to Matamata a day later for a funeral and burial.

Inside was a gorgeous bubbly little six year old girl who should have had her life in front of her. Instead she lay unable to reach out to comfort her grief stricken father who had spent the night beside her casket.

Coral Burrows died of a brain injury. Her partially clad body was found in a thicket of toetoe on the edge of Lake Onoke where her body had been dumped. The place had been used as a maimai by duck-hunters near the Ruamahanga river mouth. The man accused of murdering Coral, her stepfather Steve Williams, led police to the body ten days after her disappearance on Tuesday 9 September.

It was on that day that the accused drove Coral and her brother, eight year old Storm, to school. One of her best friends, Carline Rex, saw Coral playing stones on the grounds of Featherstone South School. But when the school bell rang out, Carline went into class. Coral, who was playing outside by the gate, did not.

When Steve Williams returned to the family home later that day he was, according to one report, soaking wet (Sunday Star Times 21 Sept. 2003), despite there being no rain that day. Coral was not seen alive again.

In the wake of the unfolding tragedy that was yet another heartbreaking indictment on the value we place on life and, in particular, a child's life, we talk of such things as "let it not be in vain" and "we must ensure it never happens again" and so on. The sentiment is natural. Certainly understandable. Such expressions of hope is absolutely essential but sadly, as time has shown, not nearly enough.

We have felt such sentiments before:

Louisa Damodran (1986); Teresa Cormack (1987); Karla Cardno (1989); Stephen Tepu and Piripi, Barney and Stacey Ratima (1992); James Whakaruru (1999); Lillybing (2000); Saliel Aplin (2001); and Olympia Jetson (2001).

We should not, and cannot afford to be, sidetracked from the single minded purpose to ensure our children are safe. But to do so we must tackle a wider debate on all crime. Victims cannot be ranked by size, age or cuteness. Perpetrators of violence must feel the full fury of our outrage no matter who is the victim.

What sadness, anguish and anger we feel now towards the offender who took the life of Coral must not be replaced with apathy. We need to be vigorous in our collective fight against all crimes of violence. There are a number of questions that must be answered.

Why didn't the school report Coral's non-attendance?

How can a man with ninety odd convictions be allowed out in society, let alone be given the privilege of being a stepfather?

How is it that some of our child killers are eligible for parole so quickly? Think of someone such as Raymond Ratima who barely 11 years after killing four children, is now eligible to apply for parole?

How is it that in a society so driven by the politically correct enrichment of 'rights' that no-one is actually held responsible for anything. We are collectively very adept at excusing the inexcusable. It's the alcohol...the drugs...poverty or lack of parenting.

The problem is that if we choose to look hard enough we can find so-called causes for just about any behaviour we're predisposed by ideology to explain away. The simple truth is we spend each day making a thousand choices. At some point we have to be accountable for them whether it's in the tie we wear or the child we kill.

If we do not wake up and maintain the rage, Coral will have died in vain. And the piece of all our hearts that has been ripped out by the death of Coral will begin to ebb into the distant shores of our memory. Coral and her parents deserve much more than that.

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