By Kirsty Johnston in Dunedin
The grieving parents of the Dunedin student killed in an over-crowded flat party have paid tribute to a daughter they simply described as beautiful.
University of Otago second-year student Sophia Crestani, 19, died amid scenes of utter chaos at the Dunedin home known as The Manor on Saturday night, leaving her family heartbroken and plunging Dunedin's student community into mourning.
"We are grieving the loss of our beautiful daughter and so is the community which Sophia knew and cared for," her parents Bede and Elspeth said in a statement today.
The Crestani family said they were now preparing for a private funeral for Sophia, who has an identical twin.
Wellington City Council, where Sophia's parents both work, are also rallying to support the family.
Chief executive Kevin Lavery shared an insight about the teen's association with young people, in the Wellington community, in several programmes run by the council.
"The entire city council family has been terribly upset by the devastating news.
"Sophia was a much loved member of the ASB Sports Centre Team, where she delivered holiday programmes and worked with schools as part of the Youth in Sport Programme,'' he said.
"Our thoughts are with Elspeth, Bede and the rest of Sophia's family at this very sad time. We will continue to support the family in the coming days, weeks and months.''
Party-goers recount overcrowding
Crestani was reportedly crushed as panicked party-goers fought to escape from the second-storey of the overcrowded flat, some so desperate they leaped from the balcony to land in a pile-up six people high.
"People were jumping off the top of the stairs on to other people. It was basically a human dog pile. People were mounting on top of each other," one student from the party said.
Even as Crestani and others lay unable to move, more people continued to push inside, not realising the seriousness of the situation, another party-goer said.
"Some people were trying their hardest to keep the crowd back, to push them away from the fallen ... but they kept coming."
The man said he and his friend tried to break down a locked bedroom door to create more room.
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"There were people fallen over up to my thighs and every time we picked up someone there was another underneath."
It was only after police arrived — called by the flatmates — and cleared a path that rescuers were able to get to Crestani. Even as they tried to get her outside more people began rushing forward again, the man said.
Eventually, several students managed to carry Crestani outside where they attempted to give her CPR, the student said.
Two other students were injured, but would be fine, police said.
Crestani, who had an identical twin, moved from her hometown of Wellington to study maths and statistics at the University of Otago.
She was one of up to 600 students who attended the out-of-control party, hyped as the famous flat's last outing before it is taken over by the university from next year.
A Facebook event page reportedly suggested attendees wear black.
Dozens of mourners arrived at The Manor yesterday, bringing flowers to weave into the hedge.
None paused for long, simply placing their offerings and walking slowly back to their homes in the nearby student quarter — a small area of streets of similarly squalid houses used as Scarfie flats.
Castle St, where Crestani lived, was eerily quiet. Students hugged each other as they passed on the path. Few wanted to talk about their friend.
"Everyone is pretty heartbroken," said one mourner. "We feel so shaken."
Inside The Manor itself, the house was empty, the staircase and foyer still littered with jackets and blankets. Broken glass was scattered across the path, and bags of rubbish lined the small shed.
Police yesterday confirmed they'd finished a scene examination at the flat. Its occupants did not want to return. The university said it would help them find an alternative home.
Some had apparently left Dunedin, flown home by worried parents.
Police said it was too early to confirm if charges would be laid.
Vice-chancellor Harlene Hayne said she had met Crestani's parents who were "in the deep throes of grief".
A blessing was held at the house yesterday morning as part of the family's grieving process, she said.
With exams pending, the university's focus was on looking after the students. "Now is not the time to be pointing fingers or blame ... we are holding off on any wider discussions."
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said it was an "extraordinary tragedy" and her thoughts were with the family and friends of the victim.
"First and foremost, what we need is clarity around what exactly has occurred, and I know the university will be as interested in that as we are.
"But for now, is the time for those condolences and thoughts to be sent to the family of the young woman affected."