Grieving families may never get the answers they need after three Aboriginal teenage girls have been killed in apparent ‘suicides’ in a year.
A coronial investigation into the deaths of Layla ‘Gulum’ Leering, 15, Keturah Cheralyn Mamarika, 16, and Fionica James, 17, began in Darwin on Wednesday.
All three girls were raped at some point in their lives, one allegedly by three boys at a time, before committing suicide by hanging in 2016 and 2017.
Investigations were so spoiled by police that coroner Greg Cavanagh warned families that the whole truth about their deaths may never be known.
Keturah was the first of the trio to die, found by her mother, hanging from a ceiling fan in her family’s home on the remote Groote Eyland Island at around 9:00 am.
The body of ‘Gulum’ Leering, 15, (pictured) was found under a tree in December 2017 after she got drunk and a 15-year-old boy admitted to taking advantage of her
Just two hours earlier, she smoothed her hair and posted selfies on social media until her family left. That’s when she allegedly committed suicide.
Post-mortem examinations revealed that she had once been raped by three boys and the court heard that she became sexually active at the age of 12. NT News reported.
Alex Ngalmi, her sister Jesselyn Mamarika partner, called Keturah his ‘young wife’, but denied having sex with her.
“I wasn’t there when she died, I was in town,” he told police after leaving with Jesselyn at 7am.
Keturah’s family cleaned the room where she died the next day with bleach and a high-pressure hose, and burned various pieces of furniture.
Layla subsequently died, her body found under a tree in Bulla, near the Western Australian border, in December 2017.
She had vaginal injuries and “plant material and debris was on her back, under her bra and T-shirt, between her buttocks and sticking out of her anus.”
The inquest heard that Layla was drunk the night she died and was arguing with her relative Jeremiah Laurie over a bottle of Jim Beam.
After initially lying to the police, Adrian Davey, 15, admitted to taking advantage of the ‘drunk, perhaps too drunk’ teenager, but denied forcing her to have sex with him.
Her mother Justine Jingles (pictured) showed up for the investigation at Darwin Local Court and said she would not rest until she knew what had happened in the girl’s last hours
Layla had a long history of petty crimes and her family refused to take her back when she was found wandering the streets of Katherine in 2014 and put into a home.
However, her mother Justine Jingles, along with her other daughters Jasmine and Keely Jingles, turned up for the investigation at Darwin Local Court.
‘I really wanted to know how she spent her last hours alive. It was so much for me to process, it is now starting to process in my head and I wake up to reality, ‘she said.
“Me and my girls just want to know the truth now – what really happened because I won’t rest until I find out.”
Fionics had a turbulent upbringing as her parents struggled with drug and alcohol abuse and received regular treatment for STDs from the age of 13.
Her friend Alvester Gurruwiwi told the inquest that their relationship had been marred by family feuds, threats of violence and jealousy.
He claimed she was beaten so badly by her aunt in 2016 when her family found out she was pregnant that she lost the baby.
The stress of this episode led Alvester to unsuccessfully attempt suicide by hanging himself from a tree.
Fionica was treated for numerous injuries in the months before her death and was suspected of being a victim of domestic violence – although it was not clear by whom.
On Christmas Day 2017, she found text messages on Alvester’s phone from another woman, sparking an argument that led to her going back with her father.
Alvester came to her house with a makeshift spear and vowed that there would be “war” if she didn’t return with him, and she did.
Layla’s sister Jasmine Jingles was also in the judicial investigation next to her mother on Wednesday
Fionica was found dead the next morning, hanging from the same tree on which her boyfriend tried to commit suicide a year earlier.
Detective Superintendent Lauren Hill reviewed each of the investigations and found major flaws.
“ The superintendent, in her thorough and explicit report, has not made a fist in her various criticisms of the standard level of these investigations, which, in my opinion, makes me incapable of getting the full truth of any of these three deaths, ” said Mr Cavanagh against the inquest.
The inquest found that the major crimes unit in Darwin had high turnover at the time, so the investigations often changed hands.
Detective Superintendent Hill’s report said that detectives failed to collect enough evidence and contaminate at least one DNA sample.
The judicial investigation continues on Thursday.