'The most loving heart': Grieving mum opens up about teenage son killed by train

Shaun Reynolds was walking along a train track on his way to work, a boom box on his shoulder with his “gangsta rap” blasting when he was fatally struck from behind by a train.

His grieving mother has spoken to the Herald about her 18-year-old son who had “the most loving heart” and his Asperger’s syndrome.

“Everybody else is seeing the warning signs, everybody else goes ‘no wouldn’t have done that, don’t do it’.

“But for him and his logic and his sensory processing this is the safest way underfoot. This is the most stable feeling, I can get to work on time, I’ll go this way.”

Shaun Reynolds was killed in Darfield after he was struck by a train. Photo: Supplied
Shaun Reynolds was killed in Darfield after he was struck by a train. Photo: Supplied
Reynolds left his home in Darfield, Canterbury, with his father and siblings on the morning of October 18 to head to work.

“He was on time for a change ... He was happy, he was engaging,” his mother, Sharon Reynolds, recalled.

He was dropped off at the local petrol station where he would generally grab an energy drink and some food and then make the short walk to work.

On his shoulder was his 7kg boombox playing “gangster rap”.

“He would just strut down the street and you could hear it from three blocks away. I’ve never known a speaker like it, it was so loud.”

To get to work Reynolds needed to walk along a grass verge on the side of the highway. His mother said he had always had sensory issues regarding his feet.

“Along this walk the ground is boggy and you sink, it’s uneven and unstable. We could see how in his mind, knowing him and his thought processes, how this unfolded… Shaun would’ve gotten onto the track and just gone straight down the track to work.”

It’s understood Reynolds had taken this route to work on several occasions.

“Because he had his boom box on his shoulder blaring in his ear with his back to the train he didn’t hear it, he didn’t feel it, he didn’t see it. His death was instant.”

Sharon said she was in shock and disbelief when police told her what had happened.

She waited for her husband and children to get home to tell them and then went down to the scene to do a karakia.

“For me as a mum, I needed to see him. I said I need to touch my son, I need to know this is my boy. At that moment my heart needed to be with him.”

Reynolds was diagnosed with Asperger’s at the age of seven.

Sharon said her son “embraced” his diagnosis. For the family, they focused on the things he could do well and refused to accept the things that clinicians told them he would never do well.

“As a family we embraced him, we loved him the same as we loved all the kids,” she said.

“What I really want people to hear is that kids with disabilities need to be loved and they need to be accepted. One of the hardest things for Shaun was to belong, he struggled with feeling a lack of acceptance and understanding from others and yet he was very accepting and understanding of people.”

He had idiosyncrasies and sometimes lacked filters and social skills “totally escaped him,” she said but he was “hilarious” and had the “the most loving heart”.

“Shaun’s life was a struggle emotionally, but for someone who had those struggles he had incredible compassion.”

He could often be heard late at night on the phone with friends counselling them.

Music was his main passion, with the sound of drums and guitars often coming from the family’s home.

With the help of a vocal coach, he also produced a song he wrote and sang called Living Large and Living on Top. He also sang a song from The Greatest Showman at The Piano in Christchurch in front of hundreds of people.

“Two things really describe Shaun the best,” Reynolds said.

“One is he’s an overcomer and the second is he’s a joyful noise … he was always such a happy child, a joyful person but always a really loud noise like everything about him was loud.”

He was also “incredibly intelligent,” building his own computer at the age of 11 as well as hacking into the immediate school’s computer system.

She said Reynolds’ death was “an accident”, with no one to blame for what happened.

“At the end of the day, Shaun made the decision, and your decisions have dire consequences, and unfortunately for him and we’re not sugar coating this, he made the decision and he’s paid with his life.

“That’s a really dramatic and unfortunate outcome for him. However, the way his brain is wired it made logical sense for him to go that way to work.”

The family was still taking things day by day she said.

“We’ve agreed as a whanau we’re going to laugh when we need to laugh and we’re going to cry when we need to cry and we’re going to scream when we need to scream and we’re going to do it all together and it’s important that we don’t hold things in, that we let it out whatever it is.”

By Sam Sherwood