Teenage drinker's lonely death

BLAIR ENSOR
Last updated 05:00 01/09/2012
Michael Lafou

MEMORIAL: Message-covered stones mark the place where he died.

Michael Lafou
LIFE CUT SHORT: Naenae College pupil Michael Lafou, who drank a lethal concoction of booze, including straight spirits.

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Michael Lafou was supposed to be hanging out with his mates playing computer games, but instead the teenager died cold and alone.

The 16-year-old Naenae College pupil sat near the Hutt River with friends and drank a concoction of booze - including straight bourbon, beer and RTDs - before his body was found on the water's edge early on Wednesday, police have revealed.

They believe heavy alcohol consumption and the cold weather overnight may have contributed to his death.

It is understood Michael told family on Tuesday he was off to a youth centre called the Secret Level and would be home by 9pm, but he never made it.

A makeshift driftwood cross now marks the spot where he died.

His death came as MPs voted against raising the drinking age to 20 - a move that disappointed many in the health sector who deal with the consequences of grossly intoxicated teenagers.

Hutt Valley area commander Inspector Mike Hill said yesterday that officers were still trying to piece together Michael's final movements.

It was unknown how he became separated from his friends. However, police believe he was supplied with alcohol by older people he was drinking with on the riverbank that night.

The death highlighted the dangers of supplying people under 18 with alcohol, Mr Hill said. "This is the harsh consequences of young people drinking."

Youth drinking was on the rise in Lower Hutt and police had dedicated more staff to tackling the problem before Michael's death, he said.

"We are not able to stop the desire for young people to drink, but what we can do is make it difficult for them to drink in public and have access to alcohol."

Bars and pubs were not at fault, and few liquor stores had been caught selling to underage people. Adults with access to alcohol were largely to blame.

"People are irresponsibly supplying alcohol and don't seem to care. We are looking for any information on who these people may be so we can intervene early."

Hutt Valley youth and community manager Senior Sergeant Paula Holt said teens as young as 13 had been caught drinking since police started targeting the problem. "When you put those resources into baby-sitting young people that's taking us away from doing other really important work. I hope it's a wake-up call to the youth, and to people supplying alcohol to young people."

Michael's family gathered yesterday at Te Mangungu Marae in Naenae. They declined to comment on his death.

Naenae College principal John Russell said Michael was a well-liked boy, and staff and pupils were saddened by his death.

"He's a nice enough kid, but he needed a fair bit of nurturing."

There was too much alcohol available to teenagers, and Michael's death was a warning to parents.

"I just think, as an adult community, we are failing to exercise the level of care and responsibility needed.

"We have to be far more responsible about how we bring up our children . . . and set boundaries."

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- The Dominion Post

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