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Mum of 9-year-old boy who took his own life: 'Why couldn't I have saved him?'

Anna Leask,
Publish Date
Sat, 20 Apr 2024, 9:02AM
Sage Ross died in January 2022. He was just nine years old and took his own life. Photo / Supplied
Sage Ross died in January 2022. He was just nine years old and took his own life. Photo / Supplied

Mum of 9-year-old boy who took his own life: 'Why couldn't I have saved him?'

Anna Leask,
Publish Date
Sat, 20 Apr 2024, 9:02AM

WARNING: This story deals with suicide. Please see below for help and crisis information. 

Sage Matutaera Ross was a beautiful, bright 9-year-old with his heart set on becoming a world-famous YouTube star. 

But tragically in January 2022, he took his own life, devastating his family, friends and the wider Timaru community. 

No one will ever know what happened that night to make Sage take such fatal actions - even the Coroner said it was impossible to determine his intentions. 

His mother, Carrie Ahu, has not felt able to speak about his death until now - and wants to share Sage’s heartbreaking story in a bid to prevent future tragedies. 

Senior journalist Anna Leask reports. 

Sage Ross took his own life in 2022. Photo / SuppliedSage Ross took his own life in 2022. Photo / Supplied 

“He was a beautiful, beautiful boy since birth,” Carrie said. 

“I had six boys and he was the youngest, my baby … my Sagey. 

“After the passing of my older boys’ dad, I was going through a bad time … I was so miserable, I was so depressed. And having Sage brought about a change in my life. I was 40 at the time … and he was my happy. I had a chance to be a mum all over again and do things differently.” 

“He grew up around a lot of love, so he was very affectionate. He was fearless, not scared to give things a go. He was really daring - you know how some babies are cautious? Well, not this one.” 

When Sage was about 20 months old Carrie separated from his father, Scott Ross. She moved from Central Otago to Timaru soon after. 

Sage had regular contact with his father and despite the upheaval, Carrie said he was “always happy”. 

“And always straight up and honest - but he had a magical personality and he was so intelligent.” 

In Timaru, Carrie met her current partner Tim Harris, who doted on Sage. 

Like many children, Sage loved devices and as he got older he discovered YouTube and would spend hours watching videos and making his own on his iPad. 

He dreamed of becoming an online star and spent hours filming his escapades - back flips, dancing, and family life. 

He also played Roblox and Fortnite and watched Netflix. 

Sage loved YouTube and filmed videos of himself getting up to all sorts of escapades. Photo / SuppliedSage loved YouTube and filmed videos of himself getting up to all sorts of escapades. Photo / Supplied 

Carrie worried about the amount of time he spent on his device but thought that the only content Sage was watching was child-friendly. 

His brother Jamie later revealed Sage was also watching ”3am videos” - a YouTube genre where people make paranormal content that is intended to scare. 

When Sage told family members he “lived for the internet” and started speaking about “demons” his parents became “deeply concerned”. 

Tim suspected the talk about demons was coming from what he was watching online. 

Trying to protect the youngster from negative online influences, Carrie and Tim put restrictions on Sage’s internet use - limiting the time he spent online. 

They set his device up so it could only be used from 4pm-7.30pm during the week, with longer periods over the weekend. 

The new rules upset Sage - but his parents were firm and assured him they were doing it for his wellbeing. 

Sage at his ninth birthday party. Photo / SuppliedSage at his ninth birthday party. Photo / Supplied 

Carrie said a couple of other things had unsettled Sage in 2021 that could have contributed to his feeling low - he changed schools after disclosing he was being bullied and told by other pupils to kill himself. 

When Sage disclosed the bullying, Carrie went to speak to the school. 

She felt her concerns were being ignored and she was powerless to help her little boy, so she moved him to Grantlea Downs School. 

Carrie said Sage had a “beautiful and inspiring teacher” at his old school, but thrived at his new school under his new teacher, and made good friends quickly. 

Sage was also very close to his father and was likely missing him a lot after returning from a trip to stay with him. 

There was no indication Sage was significantly distressed or upset. 

“But maybe … all those events together … the separation, the bullying at the school ... ” Carrie said. 

“I don’t know what happened, I can’t tell you exactly … everything was okay. We just lived a normal life and laid down normal ground rules for a normal boy.” 

Caz and Sage shared a close bond. Photo / SuppliedCaz and Sage shared a close bond. Photo / Supplied 

Coroner Alexandra Cunninghame released her findings to the Herald, noting the school bullying and his online activity may have impacted Sage’s mental health. 

Oranga Tamariki had supported Sages’ family when he was younger but had not been engaged at all since 2019. 

“None of the adults in Sage’s life had ever heard him talk about killing himself,” said Coroner Cunninghame. 

“While Sage could get angry, and had been observed to be upset about internet restrictions, there is no evidence that he got angry on the night. 

The Coroner noted that Sage was being influenced by his online activity and had told his parents he was experiencing “demonic” voices - in his bedroom and in his mind. 

She said any combination of those things may have “motivated Sage to deliberately end his life”. 

But, it was also possible Sage’s death was an accident, a terrible mishap while he was playing or trying something he’d seen online. 

Carrie said it took her “months” to read the full Coroner’s report. 

“It was horrible … it was too hurtful … too raw to face it,” she said. 

“When my older boys’s dad died, that was a very dark time for me. I just felt powerless and didn’t know how I was going to get through it all because I lost my mate. He was my best friend - we were together for 19 years. That’s a long time to be with somebody and then that best friend’s just gone. 

“So not knowing what else to do I turned to alcohol. And I didn’t know how to raise my sons, or how to pull myself out of that black hole. Eventually, I sold the house in Ranfurly and decided we were moving on. Then I met Sage’s father. 

“That time was also very hard, and then I never expected this to happen.” 

Carrie can barely talk about the day Sage died. It’s too painful. 

She had taken him to the skate park at Caroline Bay in Timaru - one of his favourite places where he would spend hours learning tricks and stunts. 

“It was summertime so he’d wanted to live over at the skate park,” said Carrie. 

"He was fearless," said Sage's mother, Caz Ahu. Photo / Supplied"He was fearless," said Sage's mother, Caz Ahu. Photo / Supplied 

She spoke with Sage at 5.40pm just before she left for work. 

He was unhappy about his internet time being restricted, but Carrie was in a rush to get to work and didn’t have time to deal with what she thought was a normal childish “outburst about not being allowed on the internet all night long”. 

Later, Sage wanted to go out on his scooter but his grandmother, who was staying, refused to let him go out alone. 

He complained later to Tim, who said he had a “nice” conversation with Sage about respecting and listening to his elders. 

At bedtime, Tim hugged Sage and told him he loved him. 

He checked on the 9-year-old at 9.30pm and saw him in bed, sleeping peacefully. 

An hour later Carrie came home from work sick. 

She usually checked in on Sage, but she had a “terrible” stomach ache and went straight to bed. 

At 7.30am the next day, Tim went to work. It was school holidays and he didn’t want to wake Sage early so he didn’t go into the bedroom. 

Carrie still felt awful and stayed in bed. 

She was not worried about Sage as her mother was staying and would look after him when he got up for the day. 

“But, I didn’t realise that mum had been picked up by my sister that morning ... unbeknown to any of us, my baby had passed,” she said. 

Sage Ross was the youngest of his parents' eight children. Photo / SuppliedSage Ross was the youngest of his parents' eight children. Photo / Supplied 

At 2pm, Sage’s older brother Jamie came over. He woke Carrie and then went to see Sage. 

It was then the little boy was found dead near his bed. 

Under the law, the specifics of Sage’s death cannot be published. 

“It was f**ked up, it was the worst day to ever happen,” said Carrie. 

“I think he contemplated taking his own life, and then he wanted to stop it … I don’t know why I didn’t hear, why I couldn’t have saved him … 

“I wanted to see him grow up here on Earth and I always had so many hopes for him … wonderful hopes. 

“The only thing that keeps me going now is, I know he is in heaven - and my beautiful supportive family who are there for me and praying for me.” 

Sage was a proud uncle of two baby nieces. Photo / SuppliedSage was a proud uncle of two baby nieces. Photo / Supplied 

In the days before that last goodbye, a tangihanga was held at the family home, so Sage could rest with his loved ones gathered all around him. 

When it was time to close the coffin and take her boy away Carrie was not ready. She spent another three hours putting her boy to bed for the last time. 

“I had to go and get my blankie and wrap him up in that, and get his brush and toothpaste and his other stuff and put it in there and talk to my baby,” she said. 

“I said: “You can have mummy’s blanket, it will keep you nice and warm’. 

“And I wrapped him up and said: ‘Make sure you carry on brushing your hair and scrub your teeth my darling’.” 

Carrie cannot begin to count the ways she misses her “Sagey Boy”. 

She misses him climbing into bed with her at the weekend to play games and watch TV, take selfies on her phone and laughing together. 

“Then he’d just fall asleep, and I miss that. I miss my baby and him sleeping beside me,” she said. 

“I could talk to you forever about Sage, I could write a book … I just want to say that 9 years old was too short. He was a happy, healthy, beautiful, handsome boy so full of life. He was just precious. And I don’t know what happened. 

“What the hell happened - where did my boy go?” 

After considering all of the evidence, Coroner Cunninghame ruled that while Sage’s death was self-inflicted she could not determine intent. 

“Suicidal acts by young children can and do occur but they are rare … Children aged 9 do have suicidal thoughts, and there are cases where young children will suicide,” the Coroner said. 

“Taking all of these matters into account, I am not satisfied to the required standard that Sage’s death was suicide. I am also not satisfied that it was simply an accident, occurring while Sage was playing a game.” 

His family loved Sage's sense of humour and fun. Photo / SuppliedHis family loved Sage's sense of humour and fun. Photo / Supplied 

Carrie said she felt immense guilt every day. 

Did she miss something? Did she do enough? What if she had checked on him? 

“Sometimes I blame myself … and (other family members) partly blame themselves because they weren’t here ... I wouldn’t wish this on anyone,” she said. 

“There’s not a day that goes by that my boys don’t miss their little brother or have feelings of ‘damn, I wish I was there more’.” 

Carrie and her family now hope Sage’s story will make a difference. 

They hope other parents will read about his death and be more vigilant and present in their children’s lives. 

They wanted parents to be more aware of bullying and how deeply it could affect children’s mental health and wellbeing. 

Carrie also urged people to check on what their kids are doing and watching online, who they are connecting with and what they are exposed to. 

“As a mum who has lost a 9-year-old like this ... watch their activities, go and talk to them, build them up, get involved ... you never really know what’s going through their heads,” she begged. 

Sage adored his big brothers Zion, Jordan, Canaan, Christian and Jamie - and his baby nieces. Carrie is thankful for this photo of all her boys together, taken not long before Sage died. Photo / SuppliedSage adored his big brothers Zion, Jordan, Canaan, Christian and Jamie - and his baby nieces. Carrie is thankful for this photo of all her boys together, taken not long before Sage died. Photo / Supplied 

Carrie and her whānau wanted something positive and beautiful to come out of their immeasurable pain and heartbreak. 

“The legacy I hope Sage has left behind is to impact families and children as far as possible - from New Zealand to overseas - about the impacts of bullying, internet addiction and families trying to raise these children who are going through these struggles,” she said. 

“We loved Sage forever and with all our hearts. Something just went wrong and we did not expect or know what it was. It was so devastating, heartbreaking and sad to lose someone so young and full of life. 

“It’s such a waste.” 

Carrie and her family wanted to acknowledge the outpouring of love and care after Sage’s death. 

She said they were “deeply grateful” to Sage’s former teacher Kate Perry for her “warmth, support, and unforgettable contribution to his life”. 

“We thank Kate from the bottom of our hearts,” said Carrie. 

“Sally Guthrie was his last teacher at Grantlea Downs and Sage was very fond of her. He only attended this school for one year before he passed; the principal and the whole faculty Sage’s funeral service and Sally got up to speak, which was really lovely. 

“His funeral service at Brett’s Funeral Services in Timaru was so very beautiful and deeply moving … we humbly express our deepest gratitude and want to thank all those who attended.” 

Carrie also wanted to thank her close-knit family of siblings for their “unwavering support and tireless effort” after Sage died. 

“Thank you to my beautiful big sons Zion, Jordan, Canaan, Christian and Jamie Napier, their partners and children,” she said. 

“Also thank you to Sage’s father, Scott, and his beautiful children, Ty and Brooke - Sage’s half-siblings. 

“Also a huge thank you to the wonderful staff at Sage’s school, and the entire community, who came to support her son’s passing. We thank everyone for their wonderful continued support and their contribution to Sage’s memory on his Facebook memorial page.” 

Anna Leask is a Christchurch-based reporter who covers national crime and justice. She joined the Herald in 2008 and has worked as a journalist for 18 years. She writes, hosts and produces the award-winning podcast A Moment In Crime, released monthly on nzherald.co.nz 

This article was originally published on the NZ Herald here. 


Where to get help: • Lifeline: Call 0800 543 354 or text 4357 (HELP) (available 24/7) 
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: Call 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7) 
• Youth services: (06) 3555 906 
• Youthline: Call 0800 376 633 or text 234 
• What's Up: Call 0800 942 8787 (11am to 11pm) or webchat (11am to 10.30pm) 
• Depression helpline: Call 0800 111 757 or text 4202 (available 24/7) 
• Helpline: Need to talk? Call or text 1737 
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111 

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