I wanted to hurt the people who killed my son. But violence won’t help
Content warning: This story contains references to child abuse and violence.
As Jordon Rangitoheriri went to identify the body of his three-year-old son, Moko, he had one thought in his mind: kill the people who did this.
“There's no other way to say it - I wanted to kill them. I was gonna kill them,” he says.
Moko was killed by his caregivers in 2015, while his mum was at Starship Hospital looking after his sick brother, and his dad, Jordon, was on home detention after just getting out of prison.
It became one of New Zealand’s most high-profile child abuse cases, sparking protest marches and a petition with thousands of signatures to Parliament.
The killers, Tania Schaeler and David Haerewa, were sentenced to 17 years for manslaughter.
But this isn’t a story about revenge - it’s about learning to move away from violence.
‘I always wanted power, so I used violence to take it’
The first thing you notice when you meet Jordon is the tattoo that covers his entire face.
The Roman numeral X, the number 3 and the capital letter K - it means Mangu Kaha, or Black Power in Māori.
(If you’re wondering, the numeral X = 10, 10+3 = 13, and M is the 13th letter of the alphabet, so MK, short for Mangu Kaha).
“I put it on my face because I wanted everyone to know who I was,” he says. “And to intimidate them.”
He was in Black Power for 15 years, and says violence was always part of his life.
Growing up, Jordon didn’t have a dad. Raised by a single mum on a benefit with five kids, there often wasn’t enough food to go around.
That's what pushed him towards the gangs, he says.
“I just wanted more for us, better things for us. So I figured out I can go to people's houses and jump the fence and steal new white socks off the lines, shoes off the doorsteps.”
“I think that if I had a father to teach me how to be a father, then I could have been a better father for him. I could have been a better father for my kids,” he says.
“And it breaks me every day.”
The last time Jordon ever spoke to Moko was the day before he got out of prison
It was on the phone, standing in Yard 117 of Waikeria Prison.
“I said to my daughter, ‘I love you my baby’. She said, ‘Love you dad’. And I said to Moko, ‘Love you son’, and he said ‘Yep’.”
“And I said, ‘Love you, son’, and he said, ‘Yep’. And I said, ‘Don’t you love dad?’ And he said ‘No, bye dad!’ and then he left.
“That was the last words that he ever spoke to me and I ever spoke to him. He just wanted to go play.”
The next time Jordon saw Moko, it was to identify his body.
“It wasn't until I really lost my son that I realised that I needed to change,” Jordon says.
“And I wanted to change. But I didn't know how to change.”
Jordon was haunted by thoughts of killing the people who killed his son
He would have nightmares of chasing them and trying to kill them. Shooting them, but they just wouldn’t die, he says.
Eventually, his new partner encouraged him to go to a men’s anti-violence workshop.
It was run by She’s Not Your Rehab - an organisation started by Matt and Sarah Brown that helps men take responsibility for their healing.
“If I didn't meet Matt and Sarah then I could be still thinking those thoughts.”
He was sceptical when he first walked into the workshop.
In a room with 30 other men, Jordon was told to partner up with one of them and look the man straight in his eyes.
“I just got overwhelming anxiety,” he says.
“And the first thought that came to my head was, ‘Smash him in the face before he smashes you in the face’. And I feel like that's just how we were raised.”
Instead, he took a deep breath, let all of the awkwardness and emotions go, and gave the man a hug.
“It was the most out of it feeling I've ever felt in my life. It was crazy. And then I had to do it another 10 or 20 times with other men.”
As the workshop facilitators walked around the room, they yelled out: “All those hugs your fathers never gave you, hug your partner harder.”
Looking around, Jordon says he saw “massive, fully grown men of all walks crying, and it made me cry”.
His workshop partner was on his shoulder, crying too.
“That was awkward. But also life-changing. It was the first time that I sat in a room full of men. And we cried. And we were trying to make it normal.”
‘For me anxiety, panic attacks, awkwardness, being uncomfortable - the only way I could deal with it was violence’
Learning how to express his emotions as feelings rather than as violence, has been a journey.
“I don't use violence anymore. Don't get me wrong, I get frustrated sometimes, you know, and pissed off but I've got tools in my toolbox now that I can use.”
One of the hardest things for him was to accept the hugs.
The message he wants to send other men is simple: “It's okay to talk. It's okay to cry. It's okay to open up, be vulnerable.”
“Tell your bros that you love them. Tell other men that you love them.”
Producer: Anna Harcourt
Camera: John Ross
Editor: Matavai Taulangau
Where to get help:
- 1737: The nationwide, 24/7 mental health support line. Call or text 1737 to speak to a trained counsellor.
- Suicide Crisis Line: Free call 0508 TAUTOKO or 0508 828 865. Nationwide 24/7 support line operated by experienced counsellors with advanced suicide prevention training.
- Youthline: Free call 0800 376 633, free text 234. Nationwide service focused on supporting young people.
- OUTLine NZ: Freephone 0800 OUTLINE (0800 688 5463). National service that helps LGBTIQ+ New Zealanders access support, information and a sense of community.
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