Friends in shock over teen's death

Last updated 11:19 29/07/2014
Karen Healey
'LOVELY KID': Finn O'Neill-Stevens.

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"Free-spirited" with a cheeky smile and a curious nature is how close friends of Nelson teenager Finn O'Neill-Stevens described him.

The Victoria University student, 18, died at Wellington Hospital on Sunday morning after falling through a skylight on the roof of a church hall on Friday night.

It appeared he and a friend had climbed onto the roof of Loaves and Fishes, a hall in Hill St attached to Wellington Cathedral of St Paul, before 11.30pm.

O'Neill-Stevens was a first year arts student at Victoria University and a resident at Vic House on The Terrace, and was said to be very happy living in Wellington.

He was the oldest of three children to parents Sally O'Neill and Leigh Stevens.

Nelson valuer Ian Wallace had seen O'Neill-Stevens grow up. His family was close with Leigh and Sally and their children went to school together. Wallace also coached the Raiders soccer team that O'Neill-Stevens played in while at Nelson College.

"He had such a big smile. He was outgoing, friendly, easy to talk to, always enthusiastic and bubbly. He had a hint of cheekiness and a twinkle in his eye."

He described an attitude of "living in the moment", but said the teenager always had a calm disposition.

Wallace said he was "absolutely, totally shocked and blown away" to hear the news of O'Neill-Stevens' death.

Another family friend, Simon Noble, had known O'Neill-Stevens since his birth.

His family was close with O'Neill-Stevens' and they would all go on outdoor tramps together.

His daughter and O'Neill-Stevens were "the best of mates from a very early age. You feel like a second set of parents, to a very curious, outgoing little boy as he was then".

Now living in Dunedin, Noble's family was in regular contact with O'Neill-Stevens'.

He said O'Neill-Stevens had a love of exploring.

"A lot of kids are into exploring but maybe they lose that a little, but Finn kept on exploring and discovering. He wasn't a risk-taker just an explorer, and a thinker and philosopher. He would take long walks and sit and watch the stars, think and talk," he said. "He will be missed very much - we are really feeling it."

Detective Senior Sergeant Warwick McKee said the death was "just one of those unfortunate things" and there was nothing the building owners could have done to prevent the two young men from climbing it.

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"It was tragic circumstances - that young man has either sat, or leaned or squatted on a skylight and it's collapsed under his weight and he's gone through it. It was some height."

Victoria University was offering counselling and support to those affected by his death.

Church dean Digby Wilkinson, who was quickly on the scene the night of the fall, said the skylight had been boarded over for the time being and a blessing had been held. It had been as much a time to pray for the family as it was a spiritual cleansing, he said.

A celebration of O'Neill-Stevens' life was to take place this Saturday at 4pm at Annesbrook Church. His family "extended a warm welcome" to any friends and their family who wanted to attend.

- The Nelson Mail

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