If you discover or witness a homicide death

If you discover a person’s body after a suspected homicide death, or witness that death, you can find yourself caught up in circumstances beyond your control. Events like this can have a lasting impact.

They are shocking, traumatic, and distressing. What you saw or heard may be difficult to deal with for a while. This is especially true if the person involved was someone you knew or were close to.

Our Support Workers are available to support you personally, or as a family or whānau, for as long as you need us. You can call us 24/7 on 0800 842 846 to be connected with a Support Worker.

Below are some things to help you cope with the impact of witnessing or discovering a homicide death. Click on the boxes to find out more.

Call police on 111. They will ask you to provide a witness statement. A police officer will write down what you saw, heard, or know. After such a traumatic experience, people’s memories of what happened can sometimes be a bit foggy or uncertain. Take your time and do your best.

  • What you say must be true. Giving police false information is a serious matter.
  • You’ll be asked to read it through to check it’s correct and sign to confirm it’s an accurate report of what you witnessed.

As the investigation continues, you may be interviewed again and asked to give evidence as a witness in a coronial inquiry. The police officer in charge of the case or a Court Victim Advisor will explain to you what this involves.

Even if you did not know the deceased person, witnessing a homicide is traumatic and support is available for you. A Victim Support Worker is available to provide support and answer any questions you may have. You can call us 24/7 on 0800 842 846 to be connected with a Support Worker.

Everyone’s different and will react in their own way. You may experience a wide range of strong reactions. These are all completely normal reactions to a traumatic situation. Common first reactions include shock, disbelief, horror, fear, terror, helplessness, sadness, and anger. People can also sometimes find themselves feeling guilty and wondering … Was there anything I/we could have done to have stopped this from happening?

What happened is not your fault. The only person responsible for a homicide is the perpetrator.

Physically you may find your body reacts in different ways, such as shakiness, nausea, a racing heart, a tight chest, body aches, headaches, difficulty sleeping, changes in appetite, uncontrollable sobbing or crying, or needing to sit or lie down. Existing health conditions might worsen. You might find you are exhausted.

It may be hard to remember things, or to concentrate. Some people find they stay alert and feel anxious in case something like that happens again. You might withdraw from others or need to be near others more. You might find you’re more irritable than usual.

You might feel curious to know more about the person if you didn’t know them and want answers to questions, to help make sense of what happened and why.

You may have disturbing thoughts or memories about what you saw or heard repeating in your mind. You might have nightmares, or flashbacks, as if it were happening to you again. Often people try to avoid anything that brings back bad memories.

If the discoverer or witness is a child or young person, they will need loving support and extra understanding from caring adults around them. They may also need help from professionals with trauma support skills. They may or may not have known the person who died.

Supporting a child or young person who may have discovered or witnessed a homicide

In a quiet place, gently ask them what happened to them. Keep it simple. They may not remember much at first and it may come back to them later. They might not want to talk because they’re in shock or very frightened. Just be with them quietly instead.

  • Let them know you know it was scary for them, and they’re safe now.
  • This is a very traumatic and overwhelming experience, and it could be a very troubling time for them. They’re likely to have some physical reactions, like feeling sick, headaches, stomach aches, being shaky, bed wetting, or less appetite. Difficult memories could keep coming back. They might find it hard to sleep and could have bad dreams about what they saw.
  • A police detective may need to ask them what they witnessed. Police have strict procedures for interviewing children so this would only be done with sensitivity and professional support.
  • Arrange for them to see a doctor, counsellor, or psychologist to help them deal with what happened. Ask your Support Worker about local trauma counselling support. You can call us 24/7 on 0800 842 846 to be connected to a Support Worker.

Our information sheet, After a homicide: Supporting grieving children and young people provides helpful information on how you can provide good support and help safeguard their well-being and ease their journey through grief.

Other useful information and websites

Advice on supporting your kids after a traumatic event (Ministry of Health)
Helping Children after Trauma (Ministry of Health)

A blessing of the site where a person has died is very important for some families, whānau, and communities. For information on how to arrange this, go to the Practical matters page of our website here.

If you don’t personally know the family or whānau, speak to a Support Worker if you would like to attend any blessing of the site that is being arranged.

As a discoverer or a witness, media may want to get comments, or interview you. Media can be demanding and intrusive. Our information sheet, After a homicide: Managing media interest can provide you with some helpful tips on how to do this, including how to wisely use social media at this time.

You can download a copy of this information sheet at the bottom of this page.

All these reactions listed above are normal responses to a traumatic situation and they can affect people more than they expect. Recovering from this traumatic situation will take some time and support.

Looking after yourself is important

Encourage others who have been affected to do the same. Eat healthy food. Drink enough water. Keep up routines and get good rest and sleep, as best you can. Do some simple exercise. Take some slow, deep breaths. Spend time with people you can relax with, or with a pet. Spend time in nature. If you find keeping busy helps, find useful tasks to do. See a doctor if you’re unwell, extremely anxious, or are having difficulty sleeping. Draw on any cultural or spiritual beliefs you may have. Accept caring offers from others if that would help.

Flashbacks

A flashback feels as though you’re back in the middle of your traumatic experience or reliving some aspect of it. This can be in vivid detail and during a flashback it can be difficult and confusing to connect back to the present and to what is real. Our information sheet, Dealing with flashbacks might help you to better understand flashbacks and ways to manage them.

Talk about what happened

When you’re ready, talk to someone you trust about what happened, such as a trusted member of your family, whānau, a close friend, your doctor, a counsellor, a psychologist, a respected elder, rangatira, or a Support Worker. If any aspects of your story are particularly disturbing, speak with a professional. Talking honestly about how things are can help release the stress and emotional tension inside.

More tips for coping with your reactions

Our useful information sheets below may help you to understand more about trauma and grief, and to learn ways to manage your reactions.

Your reactions are normal responses to a traumatic event. Even though it may not feel like it now, they will gradually lessen in the weeks and months to come.

If they don’t lessen or they get worse and disrupt your daily life and work, it is best to seek the help of a professional who has experience supporting people after trauma. Some people may, for example, develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If you have concerns, see your doctor, a counsellor, a psychologist, or ask a Victim Support Worker about help that is available to you.

If your reactions trouble you
  • Visit your doctor. They can do a health check and support you with any ongoing issues, such as sleeplessness, anxiety, flashbacks, or depression.
  • Consider talking with a counsellor or psychologist. They can help you work through your reactions and the consequences the crime has had.
  • To find a doctor or counsellor.

How we can help

We are here for you 24/7
Our Support Workers are available to support you personally, or as a family or whānau, for as long as you need us.  You can call us 24/7 on 0800 842 846 to be connected with a Support Worker.

Our support is completely free and confidential, and available throughout Aotearoa New Zealand.

What we can offer
As a witness or discoverer, you don’t need to report what you have seen to receive our help. Our Support Workers can support you with:

  • someone to listen, talk with, and support you to cope through trauma and loss
  • help to understand your rights and make informed choices
  • information and help to answer your questions
  • help to access local support services and counselling to suit your situation
  • practical support and assistance to deal with things like the coronial process, which you may be asked to provide evidence to
  • someone to assist and support you as a witness at any court trials, hearings, etc.
  • someone to assist and support you as a witness dealing with police and other government agencies
  • help to prepare Victim Impact Statements or other important documentation
  • financial assistance for victims (including witnesses) of homicide to assist your general costs, recovery, and participation in the justice process

We are committed to providing quality support to strengthen the mana and well-being of all those who have discovered or witnessed a homicide death.

If English is your second language
If you require support in your first language, Victim Support can use Ezispeak to connect with an interpreter over the phone. Call us on 0800 842 846 and let us know. We will try to match you to a Support Worker who speaks your language.

Other useful information and websites
Mental health advice for coping after a traumatic event (Ministry of Health )

Victim Support has developed a helpful information handbook for those affected by homicide, in partnership with Skylight. You can see a PDF version of it here or ask your Support Worker for a printed copy.

Downloads

Coping with Trauma
When you are Grieving
Dealing with flashbacks
After a homicide: Managing media interest
After a homicide: Supporting grieving children and young people
If you discover or witness a homicide death
With you on your journey (Handbook)