The family of Ocean Heke are preparing to farewell their loved one with a traditional tangi.

The 17-year-old was found dead on State Highway 3 in Otorohanga yesterday morning after a night of celebrating a best friend's birthday nearby.

Police are investigating what happened, including whether a car was involved.

Brothers, sisters, parents, aunties and uncles have gathered at the family home in Te Kuiti to say goodbye and celebrate Ocean's life.


The family are in the midst of preparing a feast and preparing the home to welcome their daughter, niece, sister and friend home.

The feast will be held outside the home where hundreds of mourners are expected at gather later this evening.

The family will welcome the body of the teenager into their living room where she will be laid down surrounded by pictures of her enjoying life.

Those who loved her will then have a chance to say their goodbyes.

A passerby found Ocean Heke's body lying in grass on the side of State Highway 3 near Otorohanga. Photo / Regan Schoultz
A passerby found Ocean Heke's body lying in grass on the side of State Highway 3 near Otorohanga. Photo / Regan Schoultz

Students at Te Kuiti High School, where former student Ocean Heke attended, were visibly shaken this morning.

Students were crying and holding each other for support following a school assembly this morning.

Te Kuiti High School deputy principal Ripeka Price said the teen had been a good student who was supportive of her peers.

"I have read her last school report and it is exactly what her teachers have to say about Ocean and how I remember her, as a kind, loyal and supportive friend to her peers.

"When she faced difficulties with her studies she always sought help from her teachers."

Ms Price said the teen left the school at the end of 2014, moving to Hamilton with family.

"She again did very well at Fraser High School. Then she returned to family in Te Kuiti and rejoined our school briefly in 2015.

"She then chose a vocational pathway, I believe in the interest of sports."

Ocean, known to friends and family as Lovey, was a member of the school's waka ama team. The team are set to perform in the national championships in Rotorua in the coming days.

Ms Price said a number of the group would be grieving for the loss of Ocean but they "know the kaupapa of fulfilling the obligations to the team and will do it for Ocean".

Ms Price news of the teen's death would take a toll on students.

"We are a small community and students know each other and they will support each other. There will be a period of grief.

"The group that is leaving for waka ama will assemble for a karakia and remember Ocean."

She said school staff would gauge whether there would be a need for a special assembly for the teen.

Ms Price said the school would offer support to students who needed it.

"We will provide a space for students to go to in the event they need a shoulder to lean on or an opportunity to share memories they have of Ocean."

Students from the school described the teen as "a good friend and a beautiful person".

"I believe it is going to affect the whole community because she was well known to everyone. She was Lovey to us," said one girl.

The group of teens said they were "shaken and saddened" by the news.