WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — A 40-year-old woman was charged Friday with killing three young girls in a crime that has shocked New Zealand.
Police did not immediately identify the woman but the Stuff news agency said she was the girls' mother, Lauren Dickason, a doctor who had just moved to New Zealand from South Africa along with her daughters and husband Graham Dickason, an orthopedic surgeon.
Emergency services said that when they responded to an incident at the home in the South Island town of Timaru they found a woman, who was hospitalized in stable condition.
Police said the woman killed twin 2-year-old girls Maya and Karla and their 6-year-old sister Liane. Police said they had earlier given incorrect ages for the girls.
The family had moved into housing for medical professionals near the Timaru Hospital less than a week earlier. Before that, as new arrivals to the country, they would have been required to spend two weeks in a coronavirus quarantine hotel run by the military.
Stuff reported that Graham Dickason returned home just before 10 p.m. Thursday and found the bodies of his daughters.
Neighbors Karen and Brad Cowper called police when they heard a man screaming and crying, Stuff said. The neighbors said they asked the man if he was OK but he didn’t respond other than to say: “Is this really happening?”
Police said they weren't looking for any other suspects.
“Look, whenever our police staff face a tragedy like this, you cannot help but take it personally. A lot of us are parents, we have our own children, and the human side of us comes through," said Police Superintendent John Price.
Nothing on Lauren Dickason's social media pages over recent months when she was living in Pretoria, South Africa, indicated anything was amiss. She posted pictures of her family and of bakery treats, and wrote about the virus, urging people to get vaccinated. In May, she marked the couple's wedding anniversary on Facebook.
“Happy 15th wedding anniversary Graham Dickason. What an adventure. We have truly created a beautiful family and had many good times together,” she wrote. “May the next years be more blessed, more happy and may the kids let us sleep.”
Her Facebook page says she went to high school in Pretoria and studied medicine in Cape Town.
Mandy Sibanyoni, who worked as a childminder for the Dickasons in South Africa, described them as an “awesome family” with “wonderful kids” and no obvious problems.
She said the only sign of “stress” she saw from Lauren Dickason was as a result of one of her daughters being born with a lip disfigurement, which needed surgical interventions. But both parents “loved their kids like nobody’s business,” she said.
“I’m torn apart, a part of mine is gone,” Sibanyoni said in an interview with The Associated Press in Pretoria. “And it’s like those kids, they are my kids too because I raised them."
“I don’t know what to do about this because the only question that I’ve got now is, what happened? What went wrong? Because Lauren cared for her kids.”
New Zealand's Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson said the killings were “absolutely tragic” and his heart went out to everybody associated with the family.
Inspector Dave Gaskin, the Aoraki area commander, said the deaths were “incredibly distressing” for residents of Timaru, particularly after five teenagers from the town were killed in a car crash last month.
AP journalist Sebabatso Mosamo in Pretoria, South Africa contributed to this report.