Cherie Howie is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

'We have to learn to carry on': Long Bay College principal's words of hope after triple tragedy

The Long Bay College community is mourning the deaths of Peyo Crus (left) Rachael De Jong and Kim Gray. Photos / Supplied
The Long Bay College community is mourning the deaths of Peyo Crus (left) Rachael De Jong and Kim Gray. Photos / Supplied

It has been the saddest of new year's for Long Bay College, with three deaths in the school community.

International student Peyo Crus, former student Rachael de Jong and former long time visual arts teacher Kim Gray have died since the start of the year.

Crus was killed in a car crash, De Jong was swept to her death when floodgates opened on the Waikato River on Waitangi Day, and Gray succumbed to breast cancer.

Long Bay principal Russell Brooke wrote of the deaths in the North Auckland school's newsletter this week, and spoke to the New Zealand Herald yesterday.

It was a "tough time", but they were facing the triple tragedy together, and that helped.

"I didn't think it was something that we could just gloss over and pretend it didn't happen. It happens in life.

"Our kids need to carry on, you've just got to carry on. It's resilience."

'I'm just really proud of the community'

French 17-year-old Crus was the first to lose his life, when he died on January 8 in a "horrible teenage car accident", Brooke said.

Crus, an only child, had been in New Zealand since July last year.

The car he and five other past and present Long Bay College students were in crashed into a tree on Oteha Valley Rd at 1.30am.

"This is the issue with teenagers ... because the frontal cortex shuts down, they make emotional decisions and unfortunately it can be a game of statistics."

Police could not be contacted yesterday to confirm if anyone had been charged over Crus' death.

Brooke spoke proudly of the heartfelt response of the community, from those at the morgue to police staff who supported Crus' father after he flew to New Zealand following the crash, and to the response of students, who met with Crus father and played a game of touch on the beach to honour the rugby-mad family.

"I'm just really proud of the community, all the kids ... about how everyone rallied around. So much so that I went to the funeral in France ... Peyo's dad said 'Kiwis, you are great people'.

"You know his only son's in a box in front of him. so I'm very proud of how much everyone cared."

'Life's beautiful people'

Crus, De Jong and Gray were among "life's beautiful people", Brooke said.

"Rachael ... she died saving her best friend's life ... that was her nature. She was the most beautiful, loving person. High achiever, great sportsperson. She was perfect."

De Jong's younger brother was still a Long Bay student and was doing well, he said.

Gray, who died on February 12, taught at Long Bay College for 38 years before retiring in 2014.

She was a kind person who had changed lives, Brooke said.

"She turned a lot of children to art."

It hadn't been an easy start to the year, but he felt privileged to be part of the school, Brooke said.

"Out of all this tragedy comes a closeness. Yes, people are grieving and people are shocked but they are carrying on and there's still a love of life and laughs and humour.

"To me it's a healthy thing. We have to learn to grieve but we have to learn to carry on as well. That's what the school feels like."

- NZ Herald

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