The mother of a young woman found dead near a Whangarei bridge says the family has been overwhelmed by support and compassion.
Ashlee Edwards, a 21-year-old mother of two, was found at the Tarewa Rd bridge early on July 27. Her former partner, Jimmy Akuhata, 29, has been charged with murder.
So many people turned out for Ashlee's funeral at the Okaihau Hall on July 31 - some put the crowd at up to 700 - that many had to huddle outside under umbrellas and shop awnings.
Ashlee's mother, Karen Edwards of Okaihau, told the Advocate this week that words could not express the "horrifically traumatic" time the family had been through.
"This is every parent's worst nightmare and we're living it. I'm just devastated. I'm missing my little mate terribly, the texts, phone calls and all the giggles. I think we're all still in disbelief this has even happened," she said.
During the service, Karen Edwards and her mother made a heartfelt pledge to raise Ashlee's two young daughters - aged 2 years and 5 months - with as much love as they could.
Since then, Ms Edwards said the Okaihau community had surrounded the girls with tender loving care.
"I can't thank our local community enough for welcoming them with wide open arms. They're both absolutely thriving. Ashlee would be so proud of them, she was such a doting mother."
Ms Edwards said she shared memories of her daughter with the girls every day, showing them photos and retelling events from their mother's younger years.
"They're sleeping in their mummy's old room with her belongings all around them. Every night I kiss them good night and tell them their mummy loves them, just like Ashlee would have wanted me to."
Ms Edwards said the family had a huge number of people to thank for the overwhelming support they had received.
That included the community for rallying around and helping to pull together the celebration of Ashlee's life at the Okaihau Hall; the many hundreds of people who came to pay their respects at Ashlee's funeral; those who had paid tribute to Ashlee at the bridge where she was found; and the relatives, friends and neighbours who had poured in with visits, touching messages, phone calls, cards, flowers, food, gifts and much more.
The family were also grateful to everyone who had helped in the homicide investigation, and for the compassionate support from the Criminal Investigation Unit at Whangarei police, Victim Support, Newberrys and Scotts Funeral Services, and many other organisations that had helped.
"Our heartfelt thanks to the many who have contributed in various ways. Every little bit has helped," Ms Edwards said.
During her service, Ashlee was described as a "happy soul" surrounded by giggles and laughter, brimming with confidence and love for her children.