Triple tragedy devastates South African family who moved to New Zealand
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Durban - EMIGRATION to New Zealand with the promise of a new life ended in heartbreak and devastation on Thursday night for Dr Graham Dickason and his wife Lauren with the shocking death of their three girls, Liane, seven, and twins, Maya and Karla, three.
Yesterday the girls’ mother, Lauren, 40, also a doctor, was arrested and charged with the murder of all three girls. She was expected to appear in the Timaru District Court this morning.
The family from Pretoria had just finished the strict quarantine period a week ago and had moved into a rented home in a block of units reserved for visiting health officials, just down the road from a hospital in the quiet suburbs of Timaru, Canterbury.
Graham is an orthopaedic specialist and Lauren is a doctor in the same field. Pictures on social media showed a happy couple with three adorable blue-eyed , bubbly little girls excitedly arriving in their new country.
But Thursday night’s events have left family and friends back home in South Africa devastated and bewildered about the events leading up to the triple tragedy, details of which remain sketchy
According to the New Zealand Herald, neighbour Jade Whaley said that at about 9.40pm, she and her husband heard banging, which was then followed by sobbing and moaning coming from the Dickasons’ home.
“We went outside and realised it was coming from the neighbouring property,” Whaley told the media, adding that they saw a neighbour speaking to someone from the back unit, after which police were called.
“Everything got cordoned off. We weren’t sure what had happened, but we knew something significant had happened,” said Whaley, confirming they saw a woman being walked to an ambulance, while a man was taken away in a police car.
According to various news sources in New Zealand, Dickason had arrived home at around 10pm to find his three daughters dead in the house and neighbours overheard him screaming and shouting: “is this really happening?”
In a police statement, Detective Inspector Scott Anderson confirmed three children under the age of 10 had died at the property on Queen Street and that a woman had been taken from the house to Timaru hospital and was in a stable condition.
“On arrival at the scene, emergency services found three deceased people. One other person has been hospitalised,” said Anderson.
Police later updated that the children were siblings and their ages, one aged seven years and three-year-old twins.
“Police would like to reassure the community that this was a tragic isolated incident and we are not seeking anyone else,” said Anderson.
Police crime investigators have been working the scene, taking photographs and gathering evidence inside and outside the Dickasons’ home.
There were also ex-pat South Africans laying flowers outside the house and an outpouring of sympathy on the South Africans Living In Timaru FaceBook group, with Lydia Rothman posting “heartbreaking, how desolate and hopeless must one feel to do something like this”.
Timaru mayor Nigel Bowen said the community was devastated by the tragedy, describing the street where the incident took place as “just a typical suburb” and was relatively quiet.
“There’s a lot of pressure on society at the moment, you have to question the support around mental health, are we doing the right things in this country? I question that we’re probably not,” said Bowen.
Late yesterday (New Zealand time), news website Stuff.co.nz confirmed that Lauren Dickason had been charged with the murder of her daughters and would appear in the Timaru District Court today.
An interim order suppressing publication of the names was briefly put in place by the coroner in order for the police to have time to contact the family’s relatives, but this was lifted yesterday evening.
Earlier yesterday Lauren’s parents, Wendy and Malcolm Fawkes, said the family was in a state of shock “as we try to understand what has happened. We ask for your prayers and support during this very difficult time.
“We would also request privacy as we battle to come to terms with what has happened,” said the couple, thanking staff at the hospital and police in their dealing with the tragedy. They did not respond to a request for comment after their daughter’s arrest.
While events leading up to the killing of the three children had not yet been made public, the very recent emigration by the family could have exacerbated stress levels.
Psychologists often equate emigrating, especially moving to a distant country, to a divorce in terms of stress. Almost every environmental variable in their lives changes, they are forced to learn so many new things in a hurry and almost nothing that grounded them in their original home environment could be relied upon as a psychological anchor.
Pietermaritzburg-based psychologist John Soderlund said emigration was a “notoriously stressful” process.
“It is a dislocating process, where you lose friends, family and culture, and you are having to deal with a new framework, including people and geography,” said Soderlund, saying a person’s sense of identity was linked to familiar people, environment and culture.
“When this is stripped away, you can lose a chunk of your identity and feel dislocated from everything that defines yourself.
“Much of our sense of predictability and familiarity has been shaken by Covid and the recent looting. For the many people who are looking to leave the country, they also now face all of the uncertainty that comes with that dislocation. It is not uncommon that emigrants experience depression and anxiety after the move and, for those with a fragile disposition or other stressors of living, emigration can push them right to the edge of their resilience,” he said.
The Independent on Saturday