A young girl who died suddenly this year is remembered by her school as a "wonderful student" who was popular and respected.

Kyana Vergara died at her Palmerston North home on January 11 in a death being investigated by coroner Tim Scott.

Family members believe she was the victim of cyberbullying, after they discovered worrying social media postings the 12-year-old received.

She was farewelled at a funeral at home four days after she died.


Kyana attended Ross Intermediate and today its principal, Wayne Jenkins, issued a statement to NZME.

"Kyana was a wonderful student who was involved in a wide range of school activities, had many friends and was well-respected in her class," Mr Jenkins' statement says.

"Like schools across the country we have programmes and support in place for students who experience bullying and are proactive in dealing with such cases.

"Our thoughts and wishes continue to be with Kyana's family and friends as they come to terms with this tragic loss."

Ministry of Education head of sector enablement and support Katrina Casey said a "specialist support team responded to a request for support from the school at the time".

"The team helped the school restore day-to-day routines and to identify children who may have been affected by the incident."

New digital guidelines for schools, developed by the Online Safety Advisory Group, were introduced last year.

They give teachers the rights to see or delete content or take away a digital device when information on it might be harmful to a pupil's peers or the learning environments.

Advisory group member Patrick Walsh, who is principal of John Paul College in Rotorua, said feedback from schools was positive.

"So we're pleased about that. On the negative side we are still getting reports from particular deans and counsellors working in schools saying reports of self-harm, depression and isolation students feel as a result of cyber bullying is still here. That's very disappointing."

Mr Walsh said the group was awaiting the first school-related prosecution under the Harmful Digital Communications Act, passed last year.

While education worked to a point, for some pupils a prosecution might be necessary to send a serious signal.

Pupils at John Paul College were being taught that standing back and watching, or "liking" a bullying Facebook post, might be causing harm and re-victimising those on the receiving end.

"It takes courage to say 'that's not acceptable, don't do it'.

"If they do nothing, or just go 'like', that's really adding to the bullying the person feels."

The school had adopted an Australian model where people who were the victim of cyber bullying can email a guidance counsellor and rate it on a one-to-five scale, where five is the worst.

Immediate action would be taken in those cases.

Mr Walsh said cyber bullying would often be the issue that pushed someone over the edge when they might have other problems in their lives, such as parental divorce or unemployment.

On a Givealittle page, created by Kyana's sister Aundrea Denoon, the girl was described as "the most caring, loving, happy girl that you could ever meet."

"She would always stick up for anyone around her as her motto was 'treat people how you want to be treated'.

"Unfortunately my baby sister had a secret she wouldn't tell anyone and that was that she was being bullied."

Where to get help:
Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
Youth services: (06) 3555 906
Youthline: 0800 376 633
Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
The Word
Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
CASPER Suicide Prevention
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.