Mt Albert tragedy: Residents feel unsafe after death of Lena Zhang Harrap

Mt Albert residents are hoping they can come together to grieve when Covid-19 restrictions ease, and support women in the area who are feeling unsafe, five days on from Lena Zhang Harrap’s death.

People in the central Auckland suburb have grappled with grief, anger and feeling unsafe since a man was charged with murder and sexual violation of Harrap, 27, a woman who had been an integral part of the community.

A mother who has lived in Mt Albert for 20 years, who the Herald has agreed not to name, said the sense of safety and security in the community is gone.

“It’s going to take an awfully long time to build that sense of security and trust back up because even though [a man] has been caught … what’s to stop it from happening again?”

Police are continuing to follow up on information they have received from the public of sightings of a car used by the accused man, and inquiries are ongoing.

Harrap’s death has shocked the nation, and prompted an outpouring of support to her family and friends. A line of flowers, balloons and tributes is quickly growing near the narrow footpath connecting Summit Drive and Grande Ave, where Harrap’s body was found by a member of the public last Wednesday.

Police scoured the area after Harrap, who had Down Syndrome and impaired eyesight, failed to return home from an early morning walk.

The Mt Albert mother told the Herald she felt unsettled when out walking after the alleged murder, and is now more worried about her teenage daughter’s safety.

“I often walk through parks, some of them have little tiny bush tracks, but a couple of days after this happened I stuck to walking up and down the immediate neighbourhood streets knowing I don’t want to be out of sight of houses at the moment,” she said.

“My daughter, she’s 17, and works part-time after school and she would often get a bus home, and it’s dark after 7pm at night. I’d be happy for her to walk from New North Rd down to home, but I’m not that keen on it anymore.”

The Mt Albert resident said although she didn’t know Harrap’s family directly, she lived close by and watched Harrap grow up.

“I’d definintely like to have a community vigil or something like that.

“The community needs to grieve together. I think that’s really really important but I don’t know when that’s going to be able to happen because of [alert] level 3. “

Colin Dale was principal of Gladstone Primary School when Harrap attended, and is also a Mt Albert resident.

“The people of Mt Albert are shocked, stunned is the word I would say.

“Especially at a time when people are walking in lockdown, exercising the very little freedom they have, to come across this sort of thing is not good for the psyche of our community.

“People should be able to walk the streets safely, especially our vulnerable.”

The Mt Albert mother suggested local women connect with each when they want to go for a walk, with someone else.

“I’d be quite happy to join up with a group, if there are women that want to go for a walk every now and then and they want a buddy to go with. If we can set something like that up in the neighbourhood so women do have people they can call on if they don’t have friends or others in the neighbourhood.

“At least we can have the safety in numbers, or know there is someone you can call on if you just need a buddy to go for a walk.”

In regards to Harrap’s family, she said “the whole community is behind them”.

National MP Nicola Willis, who has advocated for safety in Wellington CBD, told Newstalk ZB violent crime is with us every day.

“That’s why it’s so important we resource our police well … and that we have sentencing policies so that those bad people who would seek to have us live in fear and who will do things like this, should be locked up.”

Labour MP Kieran McAnulty said the Government has been investing in preventative measures.

“There is no doubt that any attack on women is cowardice and disgraceful, but investment also has to go into preventative measures,” he told Newstalk ZB.

“That is why we have increased the investment in the police, that’s why we’ve increased investment in family and sexual violence in both Budget 2020 and Budget 2021.

“It’s those sorts of things that the Government can take a lead in, looking at funding preventative measures as opposed to simply reacting to law enforcement, it needs to be both.”

Police inquiries are ongoing into Harrap’s death.

Anyone who saw a white Hyundai vehicle last week, registration EGZ962, is asked to contact police so by calling 105, quoting file number 210922/0539, a spokesperson said.

A man accused of murder and sexual violation will next appear in court on October 13.

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