Homicide survivors a source of comfort

SURVIVORS: Holding photos of loved ones lost are Sharon Hofacher, Carolyn Hurrell, Chris Cross, Peter Strathern, Lou Payne and Lyn Whitt.
SURVIVORS: Holding photos of loved ones lost are Sharon Hofacher, Carolyn Hurrell, Chris Cross, Peter Strathern, Lou Payne and Lyn Whitt.

In the lounge of a cosy suburban home a selection of photos sit atop a wooden chest.

Seated in the room are mothers, fathers and siblings who each have the chance to explain why their loved one is not there.

"I hate this part," Lyn Whitt tells the group.

LOST: Gone but not forgotten
LOST: Gone but not forgotten

She explains that on February 17, 1995, her daughter, Sonia, 27, and her partner were shot dead in their home.

Sonia's ex-husband was later convicted of their murder. Lyn has cared for her daughter's two children ever since.

"I still miss her, every day," she says.

Most people in the room have heard Lyn's story.

But whenever someone new comes to the Homicide Survival Support Group everyone has a chance to explain why they are there.

On this occasion it is a reporter from The Press.

The newspaper was invited to the meeting because the group felt the public did not know it existed. They believe there are many victims of homicide in Canterbury who could do with their support.

A judge, a lawyer and a prison officer are among other guests who have previously attended the group's monthly meetings.

To Lyn's left is Chris Cross. Her brother, Graham Nolan, 37, was bludgeoned to death in an altercation in Sydenham in 1994. A man was charged with his murder but acquitted at trial.

"It will be 20 years in November and it's still just like yesterday," she says.

Being part of the group has helped Chris through some of her darkest days.

"In the beginning it was pretty horrific. You just curl up in a ball and want to die yourself," she says.

"This group has been a godsend to me."

The Homicide Survival Support Group was formed by Victim Support worker Sandra Yaxley in 1997 because she felt there wasn't enough help for people once the court process was over.

Sandra's husband, Arthur, 49, was held up and shot dead on a family picnic in Malaya in 1980.

"At times like that the only people that can understand what you're going through is people that have walked that same path.

"It [the murder] never goes away. It just turns your whole life upside down."

Sandra was awarded a Queen's Service Medal for her work in 2001. She moved to Hastings after the earthquakes but keeps in contact with the group in Christchurch.

"I think it's sad that this group are not throughout New Zealand, because I think they are hugely important.

"Everybody has a great sense of humour which helps get you through the rough times."

Margaret Morris is the group's newest member. Her daughter Tracey, 46, was murdered in January 2012 and her body dumped in a car near Christchurch International Airport.

"She went out to dinner with a friend . . . who finished the night off by killing her," she says.

"He says he doesn't remember doing it."

After Tracey's death, Margaret wanted to be in the company of others who had been through a similar experience and asked Victim Support if there was a group she could join. Eventually she was given Lyn's phone number.

"They [the Homicide Survival Support Group] are always there to support you . . . even if it's just a hug," Margaret says

Married couple Lou and Carolyn Payne are some of the group's original members.

A photo of their son Glen is on the wooden chest.

He was killed during a botched robbery while working at the Caledonian Hotel in 1997.

"He did everything right but they still shot him," Lou says.

The couple tell the group they are upset that solar powered lights they placed at their son's grave have gone missing.

"I was so angry," Carolyn says.

"They weren't expensive but that's besides the point. Why do these people do this?

"I think everyone would say it's the lowest of the low to steal from someone's grave."

Murder and the media often dominate discussion in the group but it's not always like that. In fact, often they just sit around eating savories, drinking tea and coffee and catching up on what's been happening. However, if there's a birthday, an anniversary or a parole hearing coming up everyone is there to listen.

"If you want to have a cry, you can cry," Chris says.

"You don't even have to talk."

One thing is clear, she says.

"We're more than just members, we're great mates."

Anyone who wants more information can email Jean Strathern at strathern1@outlook.com

The Press