Mt Albert woman Lena Zhang Harrap’s disappearance leads to homicide investigation

An outpouring of love from the Mt Albert community has emerged for an Auckland woman whose tragic death has led to a homicide investigation.

Lena Zhang Harrap, 28, left her Mt Albert home around 6am yesterday morning to go for a walk – something locals often saw her doing – but this time, she failed to return.

A search was launched when her family reported her missing just before 1pm, with many concerned for her wellbeing because she had Down syndrome and impaired vision, police said.

A body was found yesterday afternoon in an area of bush off a walkway between Grande Ave and Summit Drive.

Police said today they had launched a homicide investigation following the death. While formal identification is yet to be completed at this time, police believe the woman is Lena Zhang, also known as Lena Zhang Harrap.

“Lena’s family are understandably distraught at this development,” police said.

A security guard and police car could be seen on Summit Drive today, with a pathway to the mountain being cordoned off.

Harrap was a former Lynfield College student and enjoyed participating in Star Jam classes.

“She was clever in hospitality cooking class, good in PE sports, very clever at finding her way around places independently,” said a former classmate of Harrap’s, Alex Pervan.

“[There were] times when I would go to the Mt Albert train station, and she knew her way from home.

“Lena loved her Star Jam class, being amongst all her friends.”

Pervan said Harrap was in the same learning support class as him during their time at Lynfield College between 2009 to 2012.

“[The] last time I saw Lena was at Mt Albert Unitec when me and students were doing a horticulture course in 2015.”

The Herald understands Harrap completed a horticulture course at the Unitec Mt Albert campus run by the Manukau Institute of Technology.

Harrap’s teacher posted to Facebook: “Lena was a student in my class at Unitec. I remember her determination to overcome her difficulties and obstacles in life, despite her disabilities”

A Mt Albert resident, Michelle McGee, told the Herald Harrap was “a beautiful, funny and delightful soul”.

“My heart is aching at this moment for her and her family.

“She has touched so many other people’s lives like she did my own and my children, just with her presence or the soft-spoken lady she was.

“We are all feeling the loss of Lena but for sure we will hopefully come together as a community to do a memorial because she deserves the recognition.”

Harrap is being remembered by other residents for her frequent walks around the Jersey Ave, Owairaka Reserve and Harbutt Reserve areas.

Tributes are flowing on social media.

“Lena was such a joyful soul. She touched so many people. I’m remembering her as a baby at Plunket and a young girl at Mark Rd kindy then Gladstone Primary. Last year I used to regularly see her setting off up Jersey [Ave], stick in hand and a smile on her face,” one person wrote.

Another said: ” I would often see her walking New North Rd on my way to work. Always made me smile. I’ll miss seeing her.”

Down syndrome support organisations have expressed their sympathies for Harrap’s family.

The Auckland Down Syndrome Association said its thoughts and prayers “go out to Lena’s family and friends in this time of great loss and sadness”.

Upside Downs Education Trust said it was “devastated to hear of the tragic passing of Lena Harrap, a young woman from our community, in Owairaka/Mt Albert”.

“This is absolutely devastating news, and our community are currently coming to terms with it,” it told the Herald.

“UpsideDowns is currently working with the New Zealand Down Syndrome Association and the Auckland Down Syndrome Association on next steps.”

Alert-Eden local board chairwoman Lee Corrick said the community would be feeling the pain of the family.

“Understandably people are feeling really sad, and my thoughts are with Lena’s family and friends, it’s really, really difficult,” she said.

“We need to take one step at a time and the community will give their support.

“The family have asked for privacy at this time too and I think we need to respect that.”

Star Jam declined to comment.

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