Three girls found dead in mysterious circumstances, inquest hears
THE mysterious circumstances surrounding the apparent suicides of three teenage girls in remote NT Aboriginal communities have been laid bare at a Coronial inquest in the Darwin Local Court.
The court heard the first of the three girls to lose her life was 16-year-old Cheralyn Mamarika who was at home in Umbakumba on the morning of the last day of her life in November 2016.
Cheralyn was straightening her hair and taking selfies before her sister Jesselyn and Jesselyn's husband, Alex Ngalmi, left unusually early at about 7am so Jesselyn could take her daughter to school and Alex could go to work.
A post-mortem later revealed it was about this time that Cheralyn apparently took her own life and was found by her mother shortly after 9am.
The following day, doctors identified significant injuries to her genital area and the day after that the girl's family cleaned the house, including with bleach and high pressure hoses, burning several items of furniture.
The cleaning was said to be customary prior to a smoking ceremony and while Mr Nglami admitted under questioning he referred to Cheralyn as his "young wife" whose duties included helping out around the home, they did not extend to sex.
Mr Ngalmi denied having sex with the girl or being at the house when she died, saying "I wasn't there when she passed away, I was in town".
The next girl to die in an apparent suicide was Layla "Gulum" Leering, who was 15 years old when she was found dead under a tree in Bulla in December 2017.
An autopsy revealed she too had fresh injuries to her genital area and back and a large amount of plant matter was found inside her bra and T-shirt.
The 15-year-old boy who found her, Adrian Davey, told investigators he heard Gulum threatening to kill herself on the night but only admitted to having sex with her following a positive DNA match.
Mr Davey initially told police he had sex with Gulum on his bed while she was "drunk, maybe too drunk" but admitted in giving evidence it was "on the ground".
Under questioning, Mr Davey also admitted to taking advantage of Gulum in her drunken state but denied there was any aggression involved or that she was unconsenting.
Later the same month, 17-year-old Fionica James was living in Maningrida when she was also found dead, apparently by her own hand.
Her jailbird boyfriend, Alvester Gurruwiwi, had claimed she was beaten so badly by an aunt after she fell pregnant to him in 2016 that she lost the baby, which led to an argument between them that resulted in Mr Gurruwiwi making an unsuccessful attempt on his own life.
In the ensuing months, Fionica received treatment for various injuries that left medical staff suspicious she had been the victim of domestic violence and the tension between her family and Mr Gurruwiwi escalated.
By Christmas Day of 2017, Fionica had discovered messages on Mr Gurruwiwi's phone from another woman and the couple continued arguing until she ended up back at her father's house in the early hours of December 28.
Mr Gurruwiwi turned up in the middle of the night armed with a stick or spear and she called triple 0 but was told there were no police on duty.
Mr Gurruwiwi said if she wouldn't come with him he'd be back tomorrow and there would be "war" and by morning Fionica had left the house and gone back to her boyfriend.
Mr Gurruwiwi told the inquest he left the house in the morning and when he returned to find her gone he was told she had been seen heading towards the same patch of bush where he'd earlier tried to take his own life.
Mr Gurruwiwi said he feared the worst but didn't go check because he "thought there'd be payback" if he was found with her and it was only later he delegated the grim task to someone else.
Detective Superintendent Lauren Hill, who reviewed each of the investigations, told the inquest she had identified a litany of shortcomings which Coroner Greg Cavanagh said meant the truth behind the deaths may never be known.
"One of the most important responsibilities of the Coroner, speaking for the dead and hoping to get closure in terms of the grief of those who loved the deceased, is to get to the truth of the circumstances of the death," he said.
"The superintendent, in her thorough and explicit report, has pulled no punches in her several criticisms of the level of the standard of these investigations, which has precluded, in my view, me from being able to get to the full truth of any of these three deaths."
Speaking outside court, Layla's mother, Justine Jingles, said she still hoped the inquest would provide some answers as to what led to the loss of a happy, fun-loving daughter taken too soon.
"I really wanted to know how she spent her last hours alive," she said.
"It was so much for me to handle, it's starting to process in my mind now and I'm waking up to reality.
"I am very hurt and sorry too as well for the other Aboriginal families inside (the court), there's so much sorrow.
"Me and my girls now we just would like to know about the truth - what really happened, because I won't rest until I find out."
The inquest continues on Thursday when Assistant Commissioner Nick Anticich is expected to take questions on NT Police's response to Supt Hill's report.The Suicide Call Back service is on 1300 659 467. For 24-hour domestic violence support call the national hotline 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or MensLine on 1800 600 636. firstname.lastname@example.org
Originally published as Three girls found dead in mysterious circumstances, inquest hears