Photo / Sarah Ivey

A 15-year-old who was relied on to counsel schoolmates devastated her family and community when she took her own life after receiving threatening text messages from the wife of her lover.

The Rotorua teenager killed herself after the woman sent messages saying she would kill the girl.

The man, Pelesasa Tiumalu – who was charged with having unlawful sexual connection with a girl under the age of 16 following the girl’s death – admitted the charge in the Rotorua District Court this week.

His wife, Elina Tiumalu, pleaded guilty in February to a charge of intimidation, and received a nine-month deferred sentence.

The principal at the girl’s high school said her death came completely out of the blue, as she had been the supportive “rock” for schoolmates and friends. “As a school, there was no prior warning and that made the shock and surprise really acute.”  The principal said that in a memorial service for the teenager, her role as a counsellor of friends emerged.

“It is not until something like this happens that you realise how widely-felt the influence of the girl was.  “One of the things that came out after [she died] was that she was the person everyone turned to – a true friend. And this, in a way, made it more tragic, as if she felt she couldn’t fall down.”

Prosecutors said the teenager began a relationship with Tiumalu – 11 years her senior – in March last year. He was married with a 2-year-old child at the time. Her family welcomed Tiumalu into their home, thinking he was 20, and with his assurance that the two were not having sex.  He would meet at her home and her friends’ homes, keeping his age a secret from her family and most of her friends.

His wife, Elina Eva Tiumalu, 21, found out about the relationship in May.   When Tiumalu ended the relationship on July 16, the teenager texted to him that she was contemplating ending her life. His wife intercepted these messages. She texted back warning that she would get friends to beat her up if she didn’t leave her husband alone. Elina Tiumalu also texted the girl pretending to be her husband, warning the teenager should stop texting or she [Elina] would kill her.

The day after Tiumalu and the teenager broke up, the girl was rushed to Rotorua Hospital’s intensive care unit, where she died the following morning. One friend of the girl said there had been no indication that her English classmate had been struggling.  She remembered her as a “funny, happy person … with fantastic eyelashes”.

“All of her friends adored her, she is missed so much.”  Another said the girl was the “funny, dorky chick who was always bubbly or smiling. I just hope she is safe and happy now. We [miss] her so much every day.”

Rotorua Police CIB head Mark Loper said though it was nearly a year since their daughter’s death the family were too distraught to speak to media.