A fake online fundraiser claiming to be raising money for the traumatised widower of a hero nurse who cared for Whakaari/White Island victims – who days after the eruption died in a car crash – has been taken down.
Whakatāne Hospital intensive care nurse Sheila Cheng, 50, had worked tirelessly for several days caring for some of the worst hurt in the volcanic eruption at the popular Bay of Plenty tourism destination which has claimed the lives of 21 people.
Tragically, five days after the deadly eruption, Cheng lost her life, and her husband Rhys Bugden suffered critical injuries, after they were involved in a car crash on SH30, on the outskirts of Rotorua.
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The Herald revealed on Monday that while Bugden continued to battle physical and emotional pain, he and his family have been left further upset by the creation of a GoFundMe page claiming to be raising money to help cover his "treatment".
The online fundraiser had been created by a person purporting to be a former neighbour who "became best of friends" with the couple, and using the name Lauren Urey - the name of one of those badly injured in the White Island tragedy.
The page also had the wrong date of the fatal crash that claimed Cheng's life.
Bugden and his family told the Herald they were appalled at its creation.
The Herald alerted both GoFundMe and the Police to the contents of the page on Monday morning.
In an emailed response on Monday, the online fundraising website said it would be "investigating and taking appropriate action".
By Tuesday morning, the page was gone.
At least two other White Island-related fundraisers claiming to be raising funds for those impacted have been taken down by GoFundMe.
Talking to the Herald on Monday, Bugden described the fake fundraiser as "pretty low and disrespectful".
"It is difficult when you are going through it to comprehend it. They don't think about what sort of damage they can do, they just don't care. If they can make some money out of something, it doesn't matter who they hurt along the way.
"Unfortunately there is always that section of people in the world who do things like that. It is hard to get into the heads of people like that."
Bugden said he had never had a neighbour or a friend called Lauren Urey.
"If they were a 'best friend' I would remember their name."
Bugden said he also felt for the real Lauren Urey – who was badly burned along with her new husband Matt in the December 9 tragedy - and her family.
"I know a lot of the people who suffered burns on White Island have been through quite a lot. So to take advantage of them is quite low."
Bugden's mother, Pam Greenhalgh, added she was "disgusted" by the actions of those who had set up the page.
"How low can some people go?.
"It is just horrible. I am just disgusted there are people whose minds [go this low]. They are the ones who go into people's homes after accidents and steal from them."
A legitimate fundraiser set up on Givealittle by a family friend had raised almost $15,000 to help cover costs related to Cheng's funeral and Bugden's recovery.
Greenhalgh said her family had been touched by how "supportive" donors had been to that page.
"So many people have been so good and it is devastating that someone else [would set up a fake page]."
Bugden remembered his wife was as both "smart and talented".
Her colleagues from Whakatāne Hospital had told him she had taken a "leading role" in caring for those who suffered horrendous injuries in the White Island eruption.
"She was very strong," he said.
Bugden's injuries included severe stomach trauma and broken ribs in the crash.
Now out of hospital, he said "physically I am doing pretty well".
But he added: "The emotional side is a constant thing to work on.
"ACC have funded some counselling for me from one of the top counsellors in the country in this area and that will start on February 11. That will help."