Church grieves for daughter crushed by pulpit

Members of the Amazing Love Christian Church in Samatau are still coming to terms with the loss of five-year-old Elizabeth Ropati Peniata, who died after she was crushed by a falling pulpit in the church last Saturday.

The grandmother of the deceased, Litala Tuatagaloa Manoo, told the Samoa Observer on Thursday she has been contacted by other media organisations and has chosen to maintain reverence due to her granddaughter’s untimely death.

She said varying accounts of the incident have been circulating and she is not happy and therefore would not give interviews to the media.

“I told them [other media] that I am sorry, I don’t want to speak to you so I am very sorry, whatever your wishes are other than that, I apologise but I cannot grant them,” Litala said.

“The reason why I am not happy is because there are so many stories that have gone up but we didn’t have anything to do with those reports. I am sorry, I cannot say anything else. We respect the death of my daughter. That’s it. Thank you.”

A member of the Amazing Love Christian Church, 68-year-old Teleiai Lupematasila Levi, told the Samoa Observer that the circumstances surrounding the girl’s death are bizarre and she was killed when the church's pulpit tipped over and crushed her.

“It happened when the girl’s family was decorating the church…people really need to pay closer attention to their children,” Teleiai said.

“In our church, we [families] are assigned who will decorate the church each week. The girl climbed onto the pulpit and the pulpit tipped over and fell on her. The pulpit [pulela’a] is very heavy, no one can carry it. There are wheels on it to push it [and move it around]. That is what I was told.”

A compilation of photographs and video clips were posted on social media by Vaileta Taumate Misikereta Jones, who is a member of the girl’s immediate family, and shows an energetic, bubbly and happy girl who loved to play, dance, dress and go to church.

"We miss you so much Elizabeth...everything is not the same without peaceful our Queen Elizabeth. Now you belong to our heavenly father. See you someday you always my darling Elizabeth," captions on the Facebook video read. 

Teleiai, who attended church service last Sunday, said their church leader Pastor Lemalu Livingstone led the service through a video link from Australia where he is currently based and he was deeply upset about the death.

“Our pastor was crying during our Sunday service. The incident happened on Saturday and we had church the next day on Sunday,” Teleiai added. 

“Every Sunday, our pastor’s sermons are shown, I don’t understand what those things are…but he delivers his sermons from Australia and we watch. Our pastor truly shed tears during our Sunday service. He is deeply aggrieved by this as well as the faletua.”

The girl’s death last Saturday is a reminder for parents to watch their children more carefully, according to Teleiai.

“They [parents] must pay close attention to their children…to me it is because of carelessness. This is the first time I have ever heard of this…that a child was killed because a pulpit fell on her. It is all new to my ears,” she reiterated. 

“I was shocked but the family of the girl is in mourning. I want to tell parents, keep a close eye on your children. We can’t just let them alone and risk their lives. I encourage the family to be strong but to also be alert going forward. 

“Nothing like this has ever happened inside a church. I don’t know about you, but I believe this is the very first time this has ever happened – that a child was killed because a pulpit fell on her.”

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