Warning: This story contains graphic details and may be triggering to some readers.
With a population of just under 50,000 people, Timaru residents were left in a state of shock and awe after the news broke about Lauren Dickason, the South African woman found guilty of murdering her three children, according to New Zealand sources.
On the evening of September 16, 2021, police were called to Queen Street in Timaru, a small town on the east coast of southern New Zealand.
They made a gruesome discovery, finding the three Dickason children Liané, and twins Maya and Karla, dead in their rooms.
Lauren first tried to strangle them with cable ties, but then used a blanket to smother them, the Christchurch High Court heard during the trial.
The gruesome murder sent chills through the small community, who was already reeling from a disaster that claimed the lives of five teenagers, just weeks before Lauren would go on and kill her children, producer of New Zealand radio show RNZ, Zoe Cartwright, told IOL.
Timaru is also home to a community of South Africans, some of whom were acquainted with Lauren and worked at the same hospital as her husband Graham did.
Javarney Drummond, 15, Niko William Hill, 15, Jack Wallace, 16, Joseff McCarthy, 16, and Andrew Goodger, 15, were killed when the car they were travelling in crashed into a concrete pole in August 2021, the NZ Herald reported.
The driver, 19 year-old Tyreese Fleming survived the crash at the intersection of Meadows and Seadown Road.
It was reported that Fleming was drunk at the time of the accident and was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison.
Forty days after the deaths of the five teenagers, Lauren Dickason killed her three children on Queen Street, around 12 kilometres away from the scene of the accident.
On Wednesday, 11 out of 12 jurors found the 42-year-old medical doctor guilty on three counts of murder.
A law professor who appeared on the Mike Hosking Breakfast show, Chris Gallavin, said Lauren may face 30 years of minimum non-parole period, the NZ Herald reported.
After the passing of the verdict, Timaru Mayor Nigel Bowen described it as a very dark time for the quaint town, according to a report by Stuff.NZ’s Rachael Comer.
Bowen said the verdict may have brought closure for those involved, adding that the deaths of Maya, Karla and Liané came at a time when the spirits of Timaru residents were already low.
“For about two decades of receiving surgeons from South Africa at Timaru Hospital there has been such a wonderful community here.
"What should have been the perfect story for a young family became a devastating one - it should have been so good,” Bowen was quoted as saying.
Bowen said the Dickason family were only in Timaru for a short while, but left an effect on the staff and colleagues at the Timaru hospital, where Graham was employed as a surgeon.
Lauren Dickason remains in custody at Hillmorton Mental Health institute until Justice Cameron Mander, the presiding judge on her trial, sentences her.
Despite Lauren staying in hospital instead of prison, life may not be more comfortable for her, as Hillmorton hospital was slammed for its “disgusting” conditions, according to a report NewsHub.NZ in 2022.
A patient who asked NewsHub to remain anonymous, told the publication that Hillmorton facilities were equivalent to that of a zoo and should not be deemed appropriate for use.
Hillmorton has also been called one of New Zealand’s most outdated hospitals and has been described by both patients and staff as horrible, Stuff.NZ reported.
In 2021, 13 out of a staff of around 45 people, quit the forensic mental health unit.
This is the unit responsible for assessing Lauren.
The New Zealand authorities responsible for the portfolio which Hillmorton Hospital falls under, said the staff left for a number of reasons and they were addressing the concerns expeditiously.
It is unclear how long Dickason will remain at Hillmorton Hospital before she can be sentenced.
Are you or someone you know affected by mental health? If so here are some important numbers:
The SA Depression and Anxiety Group's 24-hour mental health helpline: 080-045-6789.
The SA Federation for Mental Health: 011-781-1852.