Real Life

Kāpiti student Breanna Muruwai - missing or murdered?

Breanna's mum Jasmin hasn't given up hope that her daughter will be found.

By Cloe Willetts
When Kāpiti Coast woman Jasmin Gray answered a distressed phone call from her mother Susie Mann on a Monday morning in August 2022, she knew something was terribly wrong. Susie's voice quivered as she explained that Jasmin's 22-year-old daughter Breanna Muriwai hadn't made it home from a weekend out with friends.
The nursing student, who was living with her grandmother, wasn't active on social media or answering her phone. Worse, her waterlogged handbag had been dumped on Susie's front lawn, covered in sand.
The eldest of seven kids, Breanna was studying to be a nurse.
Now, a year on, Breanna is still missing and her bank account remains untouched. While there have been no arrests made in relation to her disappearance, Jasmin believes her precious TikTok-loving daughter, who enjoyed nothing more than making other people laugh, was murdered.
"When Mum rang me that morning, I was about to run a movement therapy class for people with special needs and she said, 'Jas, something isn't right. You need to come to me now,'" recalls the grief-stricken parent, who was six weeks away from giving birth to her youngest Ruby, now 11 months, when Breanna disappeared on 28 August 2022. "I had to finish the class and a lot was racing through my head, but I was trying to keep the faith."
The devastation of losing the eldest of her seven kids isn't the only grief Jasmin has endured. The 38-year-old lost Breanna's father to suicide while the couple lived in Brisbane, Australia, with their five children. Jasmin found his body and her scream woke a then-nine-year-old Breanna, who walked in to find her trying to resuscitate him.
Jasmin is finding comfort in her youngest Ruby.
Jasmin's daughter carried the trauma of losing her dad into adulthood but bravely decided to study nursing at 22, so she could specialise in mental health and help others.
"Breanna and I had a beautiful relationship, but we grew up together because I had her at 15, so we were kind of like friends as well and that meant arguments," laughs Jasmin, whose daughter loved music, road trips and runs in nature. "Breanna and my mum also had a really special bond. It was like she was her second mother."
In Kāpiti, where Jasmin returned and had another two babies, Breanna enjoyed reading and learning at school, juggling college alongside caregiving work at a retirement home. But beneath her loving and down-to-earth nature, Breanna struggled with bouts of depression.
"Breanna had started to learn about her trauma and was finding the right tools," her mum explains. "She was going through a soul-searching journey, and found the love of crystals and meditation.
She was making dancing TikToks, which was her way of expressing herself. She said it made her feel free."
Baby Breanna with gran Susie.
Around the time she disappeared, Breanna was drinking alcohol on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday, which her mum knew was her way of suppressing hard feelings. Jasmin made it a ritual to take Breanna for coffee or a meal at the end of each week, but she couldn't get hold of her that last Friday.
Susie went to the police station the following Monday morning and filed a missing person's report. Jasmin also reached out to Breanna's friends on social media, asking if they knew where she was, while continuing to call her phone.
"That night, nobody slept," recalls Jasmin, whose daughter was last seen in CCTV images at a liquor store in Palmerston North that Saturday, around 11.15am. "I couldn't sleep. It was the same with Tuesday. When we finally got a call from the police, they said we better start putting it out on community pages, so we did.
"Within 10 minutes, my mum got a call and we were told Breanna was last seen at Te Horo Beach. A few of us rounded up in the car and sped to the beach, but I never felt her presence there. I thought, 'She's not here'."
While they were searching for Breanna, she met one of the men her daughter was with the weekend she went missing, who Jasmin believes was involved.
"He told me Breanna ran away from them on the beach into the dark, but his story didn't add up," she says. "As parents, we need to educate our kids that the company they keep matters."
Breanna was living with her gran Susie, who was like her "second mum".
According to police, Breanna was picked up by a male friend on Friday 26 August and they travelled to Palmerston North, where they stayed until she asked to go home on Saturday evening.
The man agreed and they headed towards Paraparaumu late that night.
Along the way, they made multiple stops, including near Levin to pick up another man, who journeyed with them to O¯taki, where they stopped at an ATM and Breanna's male friend withdrew money from her account. The trio stopped again to meet another person near Te Horo Beach Road, before Breanna and the original two males parked on Te Horo Beach.
What happened next is unclear, however, a purple suitcase owned by one of the men was seen and photographed by a local dog walker at Te Horo Beach the morning she disappeared.
Breanna's waterlogged phone and handbag were also there, but before police could investigate, the items were removed.
"About five months later, after our story was on Police 10/7, a guy finally reached out to police and admitted he picked up the suitcase," Jasmin explains. "It was just a matter of time before he had to tell the truth."
In a phone conversation with Jasmin, which she recorded and shared with 5000+ Facebook followers, the man said he'd noticed what looked like a woman's shirt by the suitcase he picked up. He also said the male who sent him to collect his "stuff" had asked if his pants were nearby.
"I'll be driving and get these random flashes of bits and pieces happening. Deep down in my heart, I feel Breanna fought them off as much as she could," shares Jasmin, who led a march to Parliament in June, calling for more to be done to solve missing persons cases.
"I've been around the back of Ōtaki and felt the energy of Breanna in the hills. I don't know if that's my desperation, but I've always felt her there."
Searches for Breanna have stretched between Kāpiti and Mangaweka in the North Island, and Jasmin won't give up.
"As a mum, you're constantly looking for information," says Jasmin, who now lives in constant fear of her children being hurt. "I've made investigation boards so I can get it all out of my mind. I had
a meeting with police back in April and gave the detectives all the information I had.
They say they're still working on the case, but I just don't understand why it's taking so long. There are so many mixed emotions and I'm angry."
Around her hometown, Breanna's smiling face is still stuck to poles and notice boards beside the word "Missing". As well as her children – including baby Ruby, who is the light of the family's life – Jasmin gets out of bed each day because of hope.
"The only thing that gives me comfort is knowing Breanna's dad is there with her," she says, wiping away tears. "I miss everything about Breanna. You don't realise the beauty of someone's presence until it's gone. Now we just want her home, where she belongs."
Anyone with information about Breanna should contact the police and reference file number 220829/5320. If you're struggling with your mental health, text or call 1737 at any time to speak to a trained counsellor for free. For the Suicide Crisis Helpline, phone 0508 TAUTOKO. In an emergency, dial 111.
  • undefined: Cloe Willetts (1)

read more from