Real Life

6-year-old Coral was beaten to death by her mum's boyfriend - her haunting drawing reveals she may have known what was coming

Coral Burrows was just 6-years-old when her mum’s boyfriend beat her to death while high on methamphetamine. It wasn’t until 10 days after police had been searching for Coral that he confessed to killing her and revealed he’d dumped her body in a river.

Ron Burrows, 53 from Tauranga, NZ shares his real life story

Strolling through the sunny park, I breathed a sigh of relief. It was the first time my kids, Coral and Storm had met my new partner, Sarah.

I'd been nervous about it but quickly realised there was nothing to worry about. All three of them had instantly bonded.

The kids' mum, Jeanna, and I had been together for around five years before our relationship broke down and we sadly split.

It was tough not living with the kids full-time, but I would always look forward to seeing them at weekends and school holidays.

Days like this made up for it.

Coral and her brother Storm
Coral and her brother Storm

Grabbing Sarah's hand, I smiled as I watched my children having fun.

Coral was a bit of a tomboy and would look up to her big brother, Storm, who was just over a year older than her. She was happy enough building mudslides and riding around with him on his bike. They were constantly giggling.

But that changed when Jeanna's new boyfriend Steve, moved into the family home.

After that, the kids seemed different. Coral was six by then, but she'd reverted back to soiling herself, and Storm became more aggressive – I'd never seen him behave that way.

What happened to my fun-loving, carefree kids?

Concerned, I phoned Jeanna, "Something's up with them," I told her.

"They're not themselves."

"They're absolutely fine, Ron, you're overthinking things," she insisted.

I was sure I wasn't, but didn't know what else to do.

A few months later, Coral told me she saw Steve throw Storm to the floor one day.

Riddled with rage, I drove straight over to confront Steve, but he denied the whole thing.

Ron with his son, leaving court in 2003
Ron with his son, leaving court in 2003

"Mate, I've got kids of my own, there's no way I'd lay a finger on a child," he argued.

I reported the situation to child protection services, but they couldn't do anything without evidence.

I felt so helpless.

As the months continued, I kept a close eye on Storm and Coral.

As the next school holidays approached, I counted down to when they'd come to stay.

One evening, I walked through the front door to my phone ringing. It was my mate Buck.

I bolted outside as friends, family and locals gathered to help search.

For days, I didn't sleep or eat. All I cared about was finding my daughter.

When I noticed Steve had joined the search party, my blood ran cold. I was sure he had something to do with Coral's disappearance.

One day, I glared at him and brought my face close to his.

"I'll spend my life searching for her if I have to," I seethed. "That's a promise."

After that, Steve played the victim, complaining to Police he was being wrongly accused of hurting Coral. They removed him from the search as his presence was causing too much tension.

With each day that passed without any sign of Coral, my heart shattered a little bit more. Where was my baby?

As we approached Day 11, the lead detective turned up on my doorstep looking grim.

"Steve's confessed," he said sadly.

I felt my hand shoot up to my mouth.

"He's shown us where he left her body," he continued.

I felt all sense of life leave my body, as though I'd died myself, right there on the spot. That monster had taken my daughter.

Later, more details emerged.

Steve had been driving the kids to school when Coral realised she'd left her puppet at home, which she'd made especially for class.

She begged Steve to go back, but he refused.

So when they arrived at school and Storm went off to class, Coral started sulking and refused to get out of the car.

Steve was high on drugs and just snapped. He turned around and bashed my poor daughter unconscious. Then, thinking she was dead, he took her to some wasteland to dump her body when suddenly she groaned.

Panicking, he grabbed a tree branch and smashed her skull.

I thought back to him joining our desperate search when he'd known exactly where she was all along.

The day of Coral's funeral was the hardest of my life. I simply couldn't comprehend that I was saying goodbye to my beautiful girl.

Afterwards, Jeanna came to me looking distraught and handed me a Father's Day card Coral had made me. She'd never get the chance to give it to me herself. Her drawing sent a shiver down my spine.

She'd sketched a house with a police car outside it. Coral was standing on one side of the home by herself, while the rest of the family were together.
It was a chilling snapshot of her future, as though she'd known it was coming.

Had she drawn this hoping I could help her in some way?

I had the sketch printed on her headstone to preserve it forever and to this day, it still haunts me.

If only I could have saved Coral.

"I had the sketch printed on her headstone to preserve it forever and to this day, it still haunts me."
"I had the sketch printed on her headstone to preserve it forever and to this day, it still haunts me."

Steven Williams was sentenced to 17 years non-parole, which is nowhere near enough for taking the life of a child.

Storm now lives with Sarah and I, and we talk about Coral all the time and make sure there are always fresh flowers at her grave.

It's soul-destroying to realise that she'd still be here if child services had got involved when I'd begged them to.

This year, the family gathered to celebrate would have been Coral's 21st birthday. I often wonder what she'd be like now, as a young woman with the world at her feet. Because of that monster, we'll never know.

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