Harris family 'shellshocked' by soldier death

FALLEN: Corporal Luke Tamatea, 31, Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker, 26, and Private Richard Harris, 21.
FALLEN: Corporal Luke Tamatea, 31, Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker, 26, and Private Richard Harris, 21.

The family of slain soldier Richard Harris is "in shellshock" over news of his death.

Private Harris' aunt, Gaylene Harris, who lives in Christchurch, said the close-knit family was ''just devastated''.

''We're a bit in shellshock ourselves.''

In Auckland, tears were flowing freely at Harris' family home on a lifestyle block in Pukekohe. About 50 friends and family members gathered yesterday for a barbecue to celebrate his life.

Harris' mother was supported by a number of people as she cried on a couch.

A man who said he was Harris' uncle said the family would not be commenting as it was a family event.

Harris, the youngest of three children, lost his father when he was two years old.

''He was the baby of the family,'' his aunt said.

''After last week's [August 4] incident we just wanted to make sure then, that he was safe.

"We were just looking forward to getting him home at the end of his time there.''

She last saw Harris in April, and he was single as far as she was aware.

She said he enjoyed being in the army and saw it as a career.

''He's always been very special to the family. He's was just such a lovely kid. Done everything right. Never into any trouble or bother,'' she said.

Most of the family came from the Far North, and she said Harris would be buried at Piki Te Aroha Marae, in Rahiri, Hokianga, beside his father's grave.

Pukekohe High School principal Ian McKinnon said Harris was a "typical Kiwi bloke". Harris graduated from the school in 2008.

"We had a staff meeting [yesterday] about his involvement," he said. "People remembered him as a pleasant chap."

McKinnon said Harris was a keen rugby player, having played for the school's first XV team and enjoyed the outdoors.

"He was amiable and easy going - that's how his teachers spoke of him," he said. "Someone who was always friendly."

Harris joined the Army in February 2009 and had also served in Timor-Leste.

Meanwhile, heartbreaking messages had been left on his Facebook page little more than a week before the tragedy.

On a photo posted of Harris and a fellow soldier in Afghanistan, friends and family wrote of their pride at seeing him armed and in uniform.

A niece, Sanita Harris, said she hoped her uncle was "algoodz".

"cant wait for you to come home!!! miss you heaps!! and mum said stay safe and sorry to hear bout those two soldiers! and love you heaps see you when you get back to nz!! love from all the family! x"

Yesterday another family member, Cameron Michie-Harris, was obviously in shock, posting on his own page: "RIP".

"...cant beleive it ae [sic] just sucks being here and not being able to do anything about it...hope your in a better place man," he said.

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