The young man killed while travelling home to Katikati after visiting his girlfriend in Rotorua has been remembered as a gentle soul with a quiet strength. Eliesa "Tonga" Lolohea was only 20 when he crashed
on State Highway 36 on Monday. Today, his heartbroken family speak to Sandra Conchie about that moment the police knocked on their door and how their lives have since been turned upside down in grief. Tonga, as he was known to many, was a "beautiful soul".
Breaking the news of his son's death to the rest of the children was the hardest thing for Katikati man Alo Lolohea.
Eliesa Jacob Osaiasi Tonga Faleola Lolohea has been remembered as a kind, gentle-natured loving young man. The 20-year-old always had a smile of his face and was known as a "beautiful soul".
Eliesa, known as Tonga to many, was killed on November 4 after the vehicle he was driving hit a tree on State Highway 36 between Tauranga and Rotorua.
He was the eldest son of Alo and Helena Lolohea and the eldest brother of Atu, 19, and 13-year-old Ma'afu Lolohea.
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Alo's eyes well as he recalls the moment the police arrived at his door to tell him his son had died in a crash.
"The car was registered in my name, and because Eliesa had no ID on him, the police had to use the vehicle number plate to contact [me]," he said.
Alo described his son as a "very good boy" who mainly stuck close to home since his mother died after a long battle with breast cancer three years ago.
"Eliesa was very close to his mother ... he was always looking at her photographs," he said.
Alo said his eldest son started to change his usual routine about two weeks ago and began travelling to and from Rotorua to visit his girlfriend after they met at K-Mart.
"I was happy about that because Eliesa didn't have a girlfriend at school and he used to spend a lot of time at home with me and I wanted him to be more outgoing.
"I often thought to myself Eliesa needed to start to look more to the future and I think he was starting to do that," he said.
Eliesa was working at Claymark Katikati while he looked for a builder's apprenticeship.
Telling his other children of Eliesa's death was the "hardest thing".
Alo said he was comforted by knowing his eldest son was someone who other people held in high regard and have spoken to him about in glowing terms.
"All the people who knew Eliesa have told me he was a very good boy, and he was always respectful to everyone, which makes me so proud of him," he said.
Eliesa and his sister Atu are former students at Katikati College and Ma'afu is a Year 9 student at the school.
Atu was taking a gap year in Taiwan, where she was teaching English voluntarily. She was due to fly back to New Zealand on Christmas Eve to spend time with her family but came home as soon as she heard.
"Two days before my brother passed away, I received a message from him, in which he said, 'Yeah, I can't wait to see you again' and I replied I couldn't wait to see him too."
Atu wept when asked to describe her eldest brother.
"Eliesa was a shy, quiet person. He was always quite strict with me. But he was a very protective brother and a loving and caring person. Family always came first.
"We miss him so much," she said.
Katikati College's Pasifika Studies teacher Vetekina Pekipaki, who taught Eliesa in 2017, said she and the school community were "shocked and saddened".
"Eliesa was a very kind young man. He always had a smile on his face ... He will always be remembered for his gentle nature and kindness towards his class members," she said.
Nikki Pooley, Head of Languages at the college, said; "Eliesa was a hard-working and incredibly humble young man".
"Beneath his gentle nature lay a quiet strength."
Daizy Frost , who was in the same group class at Katikati College, said she remembered Eliesa as someone who was "always smiling" and "being the happy person he was".
"I am forever grateful that I had him as a friend... Rest in love, beautiful soul," she said.
A private service will be held next week with members of the local Wesleyan Methodist Church and close friends. The family will then take Eliesa back to Vaini Tonga Nukolofa where his mother was born and buried. Eliesa will be buried with his grandfather Solia Foliaki and next to his mother's burial plot.