The widower of a hero nurse who died in a car crash just days after caring for those critically injured in the Whakaari / White Island tragedy has been targeted by online scammers – with a fake fundraiser being set up under the name of one of the disaster's survivors.

Whakatāne Hospital intensive care nurse Sheila Cheng, aged 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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As Bugden continues battling the physical and emotional pain caused by the crash, 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 has 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 has the wrong date for the fatal crash that claimed Cheng's life.

Bugden and his family told the Herald they were apalled at its creation.

"It is pretty low and disrespectful," Bugden said.

"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."

Lauren Urey, pictured with her husband Matthew Urey. Both were badly burned in the Whakaari / White Island eruption. Photo / Supplied
Lauren Urey, pictured with her husband Matthew Urey. Both were badly burned in the Whakaari / White Island eruption. Photo / Supplied

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," he said.

Bugden said he also felt for the real Lauren Urey – who was badly burned, along with her new husband Matthew, in the December 9 tragedy - and her family after those behind the page had used her name.

"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," he said.

Focus: Whakatane Mayor Judy Turner speaks to The New Zealand Herald about the effect on her town one month on from the fatal eruption of White Island. Video / Alan Gibson

Bugden's mother, Pam Greenhalgh, said she was "disgusted" at the actions of those who had set up the page.

"How low can some people go?," she asked.

"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."


The Herald alerted both GoFundMe and the New Zealand Police to the contents of the page on Monday morning.

In an emailed response, the online fundraising website said it would be "investigating and taking appropriate action".

At least two other White Island-related fundraisers have been taken down by GoFundMe over concerns about claims made online.

A police spokesperson said no formal complaint had been made about the page and urged "anyone who has concerns about potentially suspicious fundraising" to contact us straight away on 105. Any potential action would be determined on a case-by-case basis".

An aerial view of Whakaari/White Island after the deadly December 9 volcanic eruption. Photo / George Novak
An aerial view of Whakaari/White Island after the deadly December 9 volcanic eruption. Photo / George Novak

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]," she said.

Meanwhile, Bugden remembered his wife 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."