Hundreds in New Zealand hold vigil for slain British tourist

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — More than 1,000 people across New Zealand joined candlelight vigils on Wednesday to commemorate British tourist Grace Millane, who police say was murdered earlier this month.

The 22-year-old tourist’s death has struck a deep chord in a country where many young people take gap years to travel.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern summed up the national mood this week when she said there was an overwhelming sense of hurt and shame that the death occurred in New Zealand, a country that prides itself on its hospitality to visitors.

The victim’s father, David Millane, who traveled to New Zealand last week after his daughter vanished, said in a statement that although Grace was in the country only a few weeks, in some small way “she will forever be a kiwi.”

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Vigils were held in the cities of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, as well as in several smaller cities and towns.

At the Wellington event, participant Jenny Foote said the death had resonated with her because she has a 20-year-old daughter who wants to travel and meets people on social media including the dating app Tinder.

Police have declined to comment on reports that Millane met the 26-year-old man charged with her murder on Tinder.

“We felt really affected by it, and ashamed to be kiwis,” Foote said. “We think that visitors who come here should be safe.”

Husband John Foote said good men had had enough.

“We feel so guilty,” he said.

Nicole Skews-Poole, one of the organizers of the Wellington vigil, said she was taken aback that as many as 400 or 500 people had showed up.

“I think that a lot of people, especially women who have traveled, either overseas or in New Zealand, feel like they could have been Grace really easily,” she said.

“I think it’s also helped open a conversation about violence against women in New Zealand,” she said. “It sucks that it takes something like this for it to happen.”

Described by her father as fun-loving and family-oriented, Grace Millane had been traveling in New Zealand for less than two weeks as part of a planned yearlong trip abroad that began in Peru. She was staying at a backpacker hostel in Auckland when she went missing Dec. 1. She failed to contact her family on her birthday the following day, which alarmed them.

Detective Inspector Scott Beard said she met a man for a couple of hours in the evening on Dec. 1 before surveillance cameras showed them entering the CityLife hotel.

A week later, police found Millane’s body in a forested area not far from the side of the road in the Waitakere Ranges near Auckland.

David Millane said his daughter clearly loved the country judging by the number of pictures and messages she’d sent. He and his brother Martin had been astounded by the level of sympathy and concern they’d experienced since arriving in the country, he said, and he praised police for their “concise, stringent and thorough” investigation.

He and Martin attended an indigenous Maori blessing of the site where his daughter’s body was found, an experience he said was “lovely and peaceful.”

“We all hope that what has happened to Grace will not deter even one person from venturing out into the world and discovering their own overseas experience,” he said.

He and Martin will return home with their daughter’s body next weekend, he said.

The man accused of killing Millane made his first court appearance this week and has not yet entered a plea. He will remain in jail until his next court appearance in January. The court has temporarily blocked his name from being published.

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