When 37-year-old Mersane Warria was young, she was “always pretty polite” according to her traditionally adopted brother Michael Gela.
“She always had a very good personality,” he said.
But recently, things had started to change, the pastor with Goshen Ministries said: “The family had concerns that she was suffering depression but would not get help. She said to me and my wife ‘I’m not a girl who’ll get advice from anyone’.”
Ms Warria, who is also known as Raina Thaiday, is the centre of the homicide investigation into the deaths of eight children in the Manoora – a suburb in the far north Queensland town of Cairns – on Friday.
Their ages range from two to 14 years.
Ms Warria was mother to seven of the eight children. The final victim was her niece, who was set to celebrate her 14th birthday on Saturday, according to her father.
“The last time I saw her she kissed me. She said she loved me and she asked for $100 which I said I’d give to her on Saturday morning on her birthday,” he said. “My daughter, she was beautiful.”
It was a big family, hailing from Erub Island in the Torres Strait. Mr Gela said Ms Warria, who was already part of his extended family, had been adopted into his immediate family on Erub Island.
It’s that interconnectedness of families that has resulted in the scale of the shock felt in the Torres Strait Islander, Aboriginal and South Sea Islander communities.
Some neighbours described the family as pretty quiet, others describe them as very tight knit. Some recall happy children playing in the street.
Larry Birch shared a back fence with the family but had spoken Ms Warria only once.
“I gave them a big pile of vegies one day and she couldn’t stop thanking me, I think she was really nice,” he told The Cairns Post. “How that happened was the kids were mucking around with the ball in the back yard and they kicked it over the fence and it landed right in the middle of my lettuce patch.
“I thought I can’t eat all of them in one hit, so I called them over and gave them some lettuce, a few tomatoes and a couple of shallots.”
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