Tragic teenager who died after drinking beer at party farewelled
A West Coast teenager who died after an alcohol-fuelled party has been farewelled in a moving ceremony in Hokitika.
On Saturday, hundreds of mourners, including friends from school, rugby and scouts filled the Seaview Hall, overlooking the Tasman Sea, to say their goodbyes to Mitchell Heward.
The 17-year-old died after a party at Lake Kaniere, on the West Coast, on February 13.
Police said a group of teens drank beer and spirits from a tube and funnel before Heward's death.
Heward's father Ron Heward thanked the community for its support since Mitchell's death.
He said the family had met with police on Friday.
"They have a good picture of what happened on the lake that night. There is no single person or group responsible. There were a number of small things that happened in a short period of time that led to this tragedy," he said.
The family were aware of comments being posted on social media putting blame for Mitchell's death on one or two people.
"These false statements of blame are very hurtful to those people and our family. It was an accident of circumstance that involved alcohol," he said.
He thanked all the young people who had sat with Mitchell's twin Gerald and his sister Laura since his death.
"After today we must all move on. It will be tough to live without Mitchell in our lives. This will not be easy," he said.
He told mourners stories of Mitchell's adventures fishing, biking, tramping, canoeing and how he was happiest when on a farm.
Mitchell had just moved out of home, got his licence and was working on a farm in Harihari.
Ron's sister Linda said the young people who were with Mitchell at the party on the lake would relive that day for a long time.
"It is not a good way to start your adulthood. But I hope some good will come of this tragedy. Remember life is precious and death is real. Take care of each other and look after your mates. Be accountable and responsible for everything you do," she said.
South Westland Area School principal Ross Brockbank spoke about Mitchell's many achievements in his short life.
Mitchell was very close to his twin brother Gerald and older sister Laura, with the children growing up at the Hokitika Holiday Park, which the family owned until last year.
In the 11 years he played for Wests Rugby Club, Mitchell lost only one grand final, club manager Jenny Keogan said.
Mitchell's family had encouraged his friends to wear their school, rugby, Boys' Brigade or Scout uniforms or Mitchell's favourite colour, blue, to Saturday's funeral service.
Scouts and rugby players formed a guard of honour as Mitchell's coffin was carried out of the service.