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Family of Ruthless-Empire watching videos of toddler to keep his memory alive

Sam Sherwood,
Publish Date
Sun, 5 Nov 2023, 3:21pm

Family of Ruthless-Empire watching videos of toddler to keep his memory alive

Sam Sherwood,
Publish Date
Sun, 5 Nov 2023, 3:21pm

Today marks two weeks since Ruthless-Empire Souljah Reign Rhind Shephard Wall died as a result of blunt force trauma. Herald senior crime reporter Sam Sherwood reports on the tragic death of Baby Ru.

The giggle of a cheeky, bubbly toddler can be heard inside Sarah Reremoana’s Taupō home.

The laughter is accompanied by the first few words Baby Ru is capable of saying, like “truck” and “car”.

But rather than being able to get up off the couch and give the toddler a cuddle, Reremoana and the rest of her whānau must keep sitting and watching the television waiting for the next tribute video or the next photo to appear.

“They’re repetitive,” says Reremoana.

“But it’s just something we have to do. It’s the only way we can keep our baby alive in our hearts.”

Two weeks on from when Ruthless-Empire died after arriving at Hutt Hospital unresponsive from a home in the Lower Hutt suburb of Taitā, police are yet to make any arrests. Police say he suffered severe blunt force trauma.

For Reremoana, the child’s great-aunt who took care of him for a time, what she sees on the television serves as a reminder of the beautiful little boy whose life was cut so short and of what the whānau are missing out on.

“We were lucky to have done so many things with him in just those 727 days and we wish we had more days with him to do all these adventures.”

Ruthless-Empire was born five weeks premature. Photo / Supplied

Ruthless-Empire was born five weeks premature. Photo / Supplied

‘He was such a blessing’

Reremoana recalls the excitement when she heard her sister’s daughter Storm Wall was set to have a little boy.

Ruthless-Empire was born five weeks premature. Reremoana met him when he was about a month old and out of hospital.

“He was very small... we had to learn how to hold him.”

When he was about three months old he came to live with Reremoana for the first time.

Reremoana, who has seven children of her own, aged between 8 and 28, says the baby was “just part of our family. He just fitted in”.

"He was such a blessing to have. He gave a different life in the house.

“He was just a happy little guy that would just make you smile, even at the latest time of night.”

The whānau was there as he learned how to roll on his tummy, as he began crawling and trying to wriggle his body up to walking.

“Even when he was walking we were still trying to run for the table before him just so he wouldn’t crash into things.”

Baby Ruthless-Empire died in hospital on October 22. Photo / Ngatanahira Reremoana

Baby Ruthless-Empire died in hospital on October 22. Photo / Ngatanahira Reremoana

They would also take him swimming in the nearby lakes, rivers and beaches. He would also regularly visit the botanical gardens.

Whānau described him as “cheeky”, “adventurous” and “a little mischief”, lighting up whatever room he walked into.

“Even if he was standing at the edge of the deck, you’d be all freaking out and he would just turn around and smile at us. He was one of those ones, even at the edge of a bed, he would just test himself and test you,” Reremoana says.

“Big bubbles of smiles, laughter, and running away and coming back.”

Ruthless-Empire spent his short life in several homes with whānau as well as his mother. Reremoana says she would miss him dearly when he was away, but they would try to keep in touch whether it was with photos or videos or over the phone.

They would also send him packages “full of goodies” just for him.

‘I suggest he be uplifted asap’

In December 2022, while Wall and Ruthless-Empire were living in Hamilton, Reremoana’s son, Ngatanahira Reremoana, contacted Oranga Tamariki with concerns about Ruthless-Empire, claiming his nephew did not get the “well-deserved care he needs”.

“I suggest he be uplifted asap.”

An intake social worker from Oranga Tamariki sent a report of concern to the Hamilton office where further assessment would take place.

Separately, a whānau hui was held on May 17 this year in Hamilton to discuss removing Ruthless-Empire from the toddler’s mother’s care.

Sarah Reremoana ended up looking after Ruthless-Empire again in Taupō and they had him until early July when he went back into his mother’s care.

Reremoana did not know where the toddler was living in his final weeks.

The Poole St house in Taitā, Lower Hutt, where baby Ruthless-Empire lived with three adults, Rosie Morunga (top left), Dylan Ross and Storm Wall, his mother. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The Poole St house in Taitā, Lower Hutt, where baby Ruthless-Empire lived with three adults, Rosie Morunga (top left), Dylan Ross and Storm Wall, his mother. Photo / Mark Mitchell

In early October, Ruthless-Empire and his mother moved from Hamilton to Lower Hutt to an address where a couple, Rosie Morunga and Dylan Ross lived.

On October 22, up to 12 hours after receiving his severe injuries, Ruthless-Empire arrived at Hutt Hospital. He was pronounced dead shortly after.

Exactly what happened to Ruthless-Empire is not known.

Wall claimed in an interview with the Herald that on the evening of October 21, one of the people in the home told her to go to bed and that they would look after Ruthless-Empire.

About 10pm he was put into her bed. Wall said he “looked normal”.

“I just gave him a last hug, just checking he’s all right.”

When she woke the next morning, she said the toddler was “drowsy”.

“I thought he was tired.”

Wall was getting ready to go to visit a cousin when she heard noises in the house. She claimed she was then told Ruthless-Empire was choking.

She said she tried doing first aid, “to see if he could get any form of phlegm or anything out and therefore he was getting his grasp of breath”.

Wall then rushed the little boy to hospital.

Asked whether she had any part in her son’s death, Wall replied: “No I didn’t.”

“I just want justice for my son ... I want justice for my Ru Ru,” she said.

Morunga took to Instagram on Wednesday saying she wanted to defend herself and said there would be justice for Ruthless-Empire.

As of Saturday evening, no arrests had been made.

‘We just want honesty’

Reremoana says the past two weeks have been “a bit unbelievable”. From hearing Baby Ru had died, to finding out it was a homicide investigation and then having to see him at the undertakers.

“He wasn’t the full size someone should be on one of those tables.”

The family then farewelled him days after what would’ve been his second birthday. The whānau had never had to bury someone so young, Reremoana says.

“As the days are going on and just waiting for procedures and formalities from the police it’s just making us speechless. Still feel a bit numb, the word we all used yesterday was that we felt deflated, flat.

“We’re just making sure we’re taking care of ourselves, that’s all we can sort of do to help continue this journey to get justice and arrests made for our baby.

“I think we’re getting used to this time thing but we’d like to hear something, hopefully soon.”

She’s aware of the strong views and opinions of people across the country.

“It’s the same emotions that we’re going through as well.

“I understand some people are sending love, we’re getting some that are sending hate. You’ve got all sorts of emotions and I can relate to all their emotions. I’m angry too, I want answers, I want things like that… it’s really hard.”

Reremoana says all the whānau want is honesty.

“Even if it’s just one or two words, just tell the truth because this poor baby didn’t deserve to die this way.”

‘It’s not the same’

Reremoana says she often thinks about what Ruthless-Empire would be doing if he was still alive, playing at her home.

“He should’ve been running up and down the hallway, trying to get our attention. One of the aunties or uncles would’ve already taken him to the park and done things and eaten food.

“We always had an awesome routine with him, no matter what our daily lives brought in, he was always part of us. Sometimes he’d top the lot because he was the boss.”

What happened to Baby Ru can’t happen ever again, she says.

“Just to think we weren’t there to save him or help him it just breaks our heart because we could’ve been there in a heartbeat just to pick him up, just to take him away from that situation.

“Now we sit here with everything in our hands, money, food everything and it’s still like all material stuff at the end of the day.”

As she talks about the videos and photos on the television, she says it’s cruel that all they have is memories.

“Now we don’t have any of those moments and we’re very lucky he’s got visitors every day, the cousins have been going down to see him where he’s resting but it’s still not the same.

“You can put heaps of toys and balloons and everything on him but it’s just not the same. To have his smile, his laugh, his cheeky little voice, his singing, just the dancing alone, throwing his shoes and his bottle. Just all those things we miss of him.”

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.

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