WARNING: DISTRESSING CONTENT
The great-aunt of a toddler who died in unexplained circumstances in Lower Hutt says the whānau are “very concerned” about how he died.
Ruthless-Empire Souljah Reign Rhind Shepherd Wall died in Hutt Hospital on Sunday after he was taken there unresponsive from a house in Taita, Lower Hutt.
Police say his death is unexplained and an investigation into the circumstances is under way.
On Wednesday, Ruthless-Empire’s great-aunt Sarah Reremoana told the Herald the family had been told the toddler, who would’ve turned two on Wednesday, had at least one baby wipe in his mouth and that police asked whether he could have eaten three or four.
She was unsure whether there were wipes inside him when he was taken to hospital.
Reremoana said Ruthless-Empire was a “very cautious baby”, and did not believe he would feed himself wipes.
“The family is very concerned because our moko never ate wipes, he would get his wipes and would pull them out one by one and throw them all over the floor. He would always do that, but never, never never once in our eyes would a wipe go to his mouth.
“We would put our baby’s kai all cut up, beautiful for him on a plate. His grapes, his tomatoes, his bananas, his everything, and every piece of fruit or meat that he had he would look at it, he would smell it, he would then taste it and eat it.”
Reremoana took care of Ruthless-Empire from birth until he moved to Hamilton to be with his mother in June. He recently moved back to Wellington with his mother.
Reremoana saw Ruthless-Empire about four weeks ago.
“Baby was running everywhere, wouldn’t let me go once he got me. But it was time for me to leave, he didn’t want me to go, he just wanted to come with me, I said ‘You stay with mum and nanny’ and we decided we would see him soon for his birthday today.”
She said the family was heartbroken and described Ruthless-Empire as “the most vibrant, happiest child.
“He was bright, he had a beautiful voice, a beautiful smile.”
His uncle and family spokesman Ngatanahira Reremoana earlier told the Herald Ruthless-Empire was a “happy and bubbly” baby who would brighten up any room with his smile.
He described his nephew as “our soul” and said the family was absolutely devastated, having learned of his death while they were gathered in church.
“We received this news whilst our church bells were ringing on Sunday 10.55am that our Baby Ru had grown his wings and headed home to Torona o Iho [Throne of God].”
Reremoana said he hoped his nephew would leave a legacy in his name, and let other whānau learn from the tragedy.
“We’ve had to learn the hard way and go through this, Ruthless was turning 2 tomorrow and was going to be celebrating it with whānau and his friends.”
He declined to comment on the circumstances of Ruthless-Empire’s death, saying the investigation was with the police.
“Our whānau will never forget this little boy. He was our soul but he was taken from us. It’s time for our whānau to mourn as we wait for our boy to be released from his postmortem assessment in Wellington Hospital.”
“Piki Te Ora [be well], Piki Te Kaha [be strong], Piki Te Maramatanga [believe], Me te rangimarietanga [may there be peace].”
He has started a Givealittle page to raise money for his nephew’s funeral and whānau.
Police were seen conducting investigations at a Kāinga Ora home on Poole St in Taitā, Lower Hutt on Monday and a scene guard was stationed outside the residence.
An officer dressed in white overalls also entered the house, which had obscenities written on the windows.
There is a forensic tent set up on the left-hand side of the property.
Vicki McLaren, the Kainga Ora regional director for Greater Wellington, said their thoughts are with the whānau of the deceased child.
“Kāinga Ora – Homes and Communities was very sad to learn this morning of what police are describing as an unexplained death at one of our properties in Lower Hutt.
“Our thoughts are with the whānau of the deceased.
“Due to the ongoing police investigation, we are unable to comment further.
The family had been told Ruthless-Empire may be released to the whānau on Thursday.
“It’s been such a long process.. I told our family let it be, we need every bit of evidence the coroner can find out what happened to our baby.”
Sam Sherwood is a Christchurch-based reporter who covers crime. He is a senior journalist who joined the Herald in 2022, and has worked as a journalist for 10 years.