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Still more to do

Chiquita was just nine years old when the Aramoana massacre happened. More than three decades later, she remembers everything as if it happened yesterday.

“It was the most beautiful day,” remembers Chiquita. “People were mowing their lawns, it was stunning. You could smell barbeques, there were lots of people around and it felt like the start of summer.”

A man armed with several rifles was to destroy that idyll. On that day, 13 November 1990, her neighbour David Gray shot her father before killing a further 12 people and wounding three. Chiquita and her 11-year-old sister, Jasmine, had sought refuge in their house along with another girl also 11. Gray entered the house, shooting Chiquita in the arm and abdomen before finding the other two girls and killing them. He then set fire to the house also killing the family pets.

Chiquita was left facing monumental loss and her childhood innocence completely shattered.

In 1990, Victim Support was still very much a fledging organisation.

“Things like that hadn’t occurred in New Zealand before, so we were really left on our own, says Chiquita. “We couldn’t support each other either because we were all different families and had suffered different types of loss.

I had always thought about the lack of support being a problem and having to struggle with that my whole entire life. I thought I could either let that be something that challenges me, or I could turn it into something positive.”

She joined Victim Support as a volunteer while studying at Otago University and raising her young son as a single parent. Soon she was managing the local programme after becoming the Dunedin Service Coordinator.

Chiquita is all too aware of the risks when victims can’t get the right support and she was determined to make a difference.

“There’s a lot of research around childhood trauma, and how that can shape the person into their adult years, she says. “A lot of the people that I know who went through what I went through never recovered.

The things that people can experience when they go through or recover from trauma could be alcohol and drug addiction or relationship problems. That aloneness that you feel because people or your peer group have not experienced what you have. The way that they might treat you afterward because they don’t know what to say, or how to be around you. The lifelong loss that you will experience, the inability to form healthy functioning relationships if you don’t get that support and help.”

In 2010, additional funding enabled Victim Support to establish a specialist Homicide Support Service. When the opportunity came up to oversee the service in the South Island, she carefully considered it, knowing how difficult, but important, the role would be.

“It was something that I really believed in. I could see the potential to provide better support to victims who have been in similar situations to me.”

Chiquita’s experience in the Homicide Service demonstrated to her how the right level of funding can enable much more comprehensive support with better outcomes for victims’ families.

In 2019, Chiquita left Victim Support to take up a newly created position as Victim Support Officer

for Maritime New Zealand. In the role she is dealing with fatalities and serious harm injuries in boating accidents. This keeps her in touch with Victim Support as often there is overlap between the two organisations.

Chiquita knows about the lasting impact of trauma, of how the events of more than 30 years ago at Aramoana can still affect her. She has considered moving into a different type of work but for now she is where she wants to be.

“I really believe in the work that I’m doing, and I still want to make a difference. There will be a day where I just decide that I want to do something completely different, but for now, I still feel there’s more I want to do.”