Ashburton victim's death leaves 'huge gap'

04:14, Sep 03 2014
Susan Leigh Cleveland
'THEY WERE HER FAMILY': Ashburton shooting victim Susan Leigh Cleveland with her rottweilers Holly, Zena and Cameo.

Susan Leigh Cleveland moved to Ashburton to escape Christchurch's earthquakes, her grieving mother says. 

Cleveland, who was known as Leigh, had asked to be transferred to Ashburton's Work and Income office about two years ago, her mum Kathleen Cleveland said. 

"She found the earthquakes a bit much."

Lindy Curtis
INJURED IN SHOOTING: Lindy Curtis remains in a stable condition in Christchurch Hospital.

The 55-year-old was one of two people shot dead at the Ashburton Work and Income Office yesterday morning.

A small clutch of yellow daffodils was today tied to the gate outside her small brick home on the outskirts of Ashburton.

Russell John Tully, 48, appeared in the Christchurch District Court this morning charged with her murder, the murder of case worker Peggy Noble, and the attempted murder of Lindy Curtis.


Susan Leigh Clevelandf
TRIBUTE: Daffodils mark the home of shooting victim Susan Leigh Cleveland.

Kathleen Cleveland said her daughter had always been a happy person and she was shocked by her death. 

"I heard it on the radio at 12pm [yesterday] and I rang her cellphone. I thought I hadn't heard from her for some time and I knew things weren't good. I don't expect things like that." 

Leigh Cleveland had never married or had children, but loved horses and dogs.

She grew up in Alexandra and moved to Fairlie to work with horses when she was a teenager.

She later joined the New Zealand Army as a civilian to work with the army band and had been working for Work and Income for about 15 years. 

She was an active member of local dog clubs and had two rottweiler dogs. 

"That's quite a big part of her life," her mother said. "Her dogs, they were her children." 

Friend Debbie Renga said Cleveland's dogs were starting to notice something was wrong.

"They're both getting well loved and cared for at the moment. They were her family."

Cleveland was well-known around New Zealand for love of dogs and had received top awards for obedience training. 

Her death had left a "huge gap" in many lives, Renga said.

"She was an inspiration to a lot of people with her knowledge, and her encouragement of that she gave my son, when he started in the dog shows, and me was just amazing." 

Renga said Cleveland had loved her home in Ashburton and enjoyed being in the small town, where she felt safe after Christchurch's earthquakes.

She had always put her hand up for extra work and still enjoyed the job after so many years.

"As everyone would know, they have their ups and their downs with the difference ones they deal with, but she did enjoy her job." 

Renga said she wondered how someone could be "so mindless to leave such a hole in so many hearts".

"She was just a very very special person. She'll never be forgotten."


Ashburton Work and Income clients say walking into the office where two employees were gunned down yesterday will never be the same.

Many have credited the two women allegedly murdered by homeless man Russell John Tully with getting their lives back on track on a Facebook page created this morning entitled "RIP Peggy Noble and Susan Cleveland".

Another woman, Lindy Curtis, remains in a stable condition in Christchurch Hospital with leg injuries.

Noble was remembered as "a fixture at WINZ" by one client, after spending 20 years in the role.

"Will always remember Peg for the kind way she treated me in tough times she had a tough job but wouldn't be where I am now without her support thoughts go out to her family work mates and friends," Nicky McCormick wrote on the social media page with almost 250 members.

Emily Dodge said the pair must have worked difficult jobs at times, but she commended them for serving the community.

Carlene Harrington said Noble helped her family when they were homeless, even during weekends she was not meant to be working.

"And visiting us at the camping ground and made sure we were getting everything we were entitled to, attended all strengthening families meetings. You were always going the extra mile to help us out," she said.

Other comments offered sympathy to the affected families, while others wished Curtis a speedy recovery.

The Press