The August 11 discovery quickly sparked an investigation. A week later, New Zealand Police Detective Inspector Tofilau Faamanuia Vaaelua announced that the remains belonged to two children. According to an autopsy, they were between 5 and 10 years old.
“These children may have been dead for several years before they were found last week. We also think that the suitcases have been in storage for a number of years,” Vaaelua said at a press conference on Thursday.
The discovery has stunned authorities and the public. Numerous questions remain – above all, who are the children and how did their bodies end up in a storage unit in the suburbs?
Foul play is suspected, Vaaelua said.
“We are determined to hold accountable the person or persons responsible for the deaths of these children,” he said, adding that the members of the family who made the discovery are not suspects.
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Police are still trying to identify the children and hope to notify their relatives, who may not be aware of their death, Vaaelua said. The suitcases, he said, had been in the storage center for three or four years before being bought by the unsuspecting family.
The family got their hands on the bags through a ‘Storage Wars’ auction. Participants in the events buy the contents of a storage cabinet without knowing what is inside. In this case, the family received a slew of items from a unit at the Safe Store facility in Papatoetoe.
Safe Store did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Washington Post. However, the company president told local outlet Stuff that the company is cooperating with the police.
At Thursday’s press conference, Vaaelua said he could not confirm whether police had spoken to the storage’s previous owner. He said New Zealand’s National Police are working with foreign agencies and Interpol, an international network of police forces in 195 countries.
“This is not an easy study,” Vaaelua added. “And no matter how long or how many years you investigate horrific cases like this, it’s never an easy task.”
Residents of New Zealand’s northernmost island — known in English as the North Island and in Maori as Te Ika-a-Maui — were shocked by the grim discovery. Neighbors in Clendon Park, an area of about 9,000 residents, told the New Zealand Herald they saw the family who bought the suitcases unload strollers, baby walkers and toys.
Shortly after, a “bad smell” started coming from their house, another neighbor told Stuff. The man told the outlet that he worked at a crematorium and knew how bodies smelled.
“I knew right away [what it was] and I thought, ‘Where did that come from?’ ” he said.