Canterbury University dorm room death: Mason Pendrous' step-father pays tribute to a 'good boy' with a 'great heart'

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The Canterbury University student's step-father, Anthony Holland, says he doesn't want this to happen to another family. Source: Sunday

A step-father is speaking out to let others know Mason Pendrous, a young man whose body was found weeks after he died in his university dorm room in Canterbury last month, was well-loved.

"He was a very, very bright, very mature young brave man," Mason Pendrous' step-father, Anthony Holland, told TVNZ1's SUNDAY programme.

"A clever, clever cookie with a great heart.

"He's just a good boy, he was a good boy."

The 19-year-old made international headlines when his body was found in the dorms of the University of Canterbury's Sonoda halls of residence weeks after his death.

Now, his step-father is speaking out to let everyone know Mason was well-loved.

"This is for Mason, not for me," he said. "Doesn't stop me being upset, but this is for Mason."

Mason was born in England, but immigrated to New Zealand at age four with his mum Michelle, step-dad Anthony and biological father Steve - a "blended family", Anthony calls it.

Over the next decade, Mason grew big and strong, standing at 193-195cm with "broad shoulders, big arms - just huge".

His long limbs were perfect for rowing, a sport he loved. He joined the rowing team at Scots College in Wellington, where he soon formed a strong bond with his fellow teammates.

"It was a team thing. It was something that was quite important to him. It was something he was part of; it was a fellowship, it was a brotherhood.

"A couple of guys who rowed went to uni with him.

"The fact he was part of it makes me really proud of him."

Mason boarded at the high school - a practical solution to the early mornings he spent rowing and his massive appetite.

"I used to cook for four and he'd have two or three portions and seconds and thirds, and have reheats the next day," he recalled.

Early into his time at Scots College, his mum Michelle's breast cancer, which was in remission, had returned.

"We didn't hide it from him. Neither his dad nor mum nor I kept it from him.

"We were close, we were a close family."

He recalled how he, Michelle and his dad Steve had a family meeting.

"We sat down with Mason, all of us, and said, 'Right, what do you need? What do you want, what would you prefer?'"

She died when he was 14 and Mason continued boarding at Scots, which Anthony described as "some of the happiest times in his life" which he "thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed".

Mason, he added, was a hands-on kid who liked to tinker, having bought an "old, crushed, damaged scooter" which he restored "all himself," he said proudly. "It was a really good job."

"He was a very clever guy, and I put that down to Steve, his Dad, and myself."

A commerce degree made sense, and in early February, they said their goodbyes.

"It was an adventure - that was the phrase he used all the time,” he said. “This is my adventure. not yours.

"I had to stand on the steps to hug him because he was so big. He was still bigger than me, but it gave me an opportunity to put my arms around my boy. He was so excited - so excited."

It was the last time they saw each other.

Despite his independence, Mason made sure to check in his family every couple of weeks.

"Every time I spoke to him, he was just being a young fella doing young fella stuff - noisy background, 11 o'clock at night, very happy."
But then, in September, Mason dropped off the radar.

"After Father's Day and Steve sorta said to me, 'Have you heard, has he wished you happy Father's Day?’ And I went 'nope, and you?' and he went 'nope'.

"At that point that we both started to try and chase him."

Mason's phone had been cut off, so Anthony contacted the university through their portal but "didn't hear anything".

Anthony and Steve then tried calling some of his mates, before eventually contacting a friend who looked through the window and alerted security.

"The time it took, I'll take that to my grave."

By the time Mason's body was discovered - in an apartment with other students, in a hall of residence surrounded by hundreds of people - he had been dead for weeks.

"Unfortunately, we don't know enough facts yet to be able to characterise where we fell short and the thing that haunts me, I suppose is, in a way is, 'How did we miss him?'"

Campus Living Villages, which runs the residence Mason stayed in, is based in Australia, but the family had been under the impression that the university was managing it.

He said the family applied for the accommodation because of the pastoral care for first year students.

"In hindsight, I should have read the contract better; I should have realised that the accommodation's run by other people, not the university."

Mason had simply disappeared, and no red flags were raised.

"Mason hasn't swiped in for food, Mason hasn't been to lectures, Mason hasn't even accessed the door."

An independent investigation is currently underway by the university.

"Parents who send their children to university, to accommodation, need to believe that there's some kind of pastoral care; some kind off assistance if something goes wrong.

"Could we have saved Mason? Possibly not, possibly not. The initial pathology is that it looks potentially 80 per cent natural causes."

Changes have been quickly made following Mason's death, including a new mandatory Code of Practice for pastoral care from next year.

"Recent tragic events have highlighted that a lack of minimum standards for students in tertiary institutions exist," Minister of Education Chris Hipkins said.

"[There will be] a change the Education Act to create a new mandatory Code of Practice that will set out the duty of pastoral care that tertiary education providers have for their students.

"I want this not to happen to another dad, another stepdad. another family," Anthony said.

Anthony and his partner Teresa have recently moved - to a plot of land in the Wairarapa that they were hoping to share with Mason.

"It's going to be claimed in the name of Mason," he said. "We're gunna row out there one day and plant the flag and it'll be his little part of New Zealand."

Anthony also wants others to start 'doing a Mason' by checking up on others, even if it's just to offer a glass of water or a cup of tea.

"He wasn't a young man that died alone, he's a young man that changed the law and it doesn't give me comfort, but it makes me feel a little bit happier that he's changed the world."