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After Zenith Campbell's death, her boyfriend Paddy Jonathan Woods, 30 stayed with her father where he was comforted and told he was "part of the family".
The family were shocked when police then arrested him and charged him with murdering Zenith, known as Zena.
Her body was found in a car in the central suburb of Aro Valley about 1pm on February 11.
Woods was later charged and this week bailed to the Wairarapa area while he awaits trial for allegedly strangling Campbell.
He has plead not guilty.
Aunt Carol Campbell told the Herald the pair were in a relationship, and the family had comforted Woods after the death, not knowing police suspected he was responsible.
Campbell said Woods stayed with Zena's father the night before the funeral and two nights after.
"Chris [Zena's father] told him he was a part of the family," said Campbell, who said she also hugged Woods at the funeral.
Zena had been turning her life around before she died, Campbell said.
She had struggled with addiction, but had just gotten onto a methadone programme two weeks before her death.
Campbell, who Zena lived with for more than five years as a child, said she had only ever known her as a boy, one she described as a "lovable ratbag" with a troubled past.
"He overcame a lot. His life was a struggle. It was a struggle, especially, with ADHD. But he muddled through.
"He had a struggle with drugs, with injecting. He had just decided 'that's it, I'm going to get clean', and he got on the methadone programme and two weeks later he was dead.
"He was starting to become happy, starting to get his life together."
After her death, Zena's family were upset to see reports of her earlier conviction for an arson which damaged a Scout hall and caused $300,000 worth of damage to a supermarket.
Campbell wanted to set the record straight, saying "Zen" was a kind-hearted but easily-led teenager at the time whose best friend had committed suicide shortly before.
"That's why he did all those things, because he didn't want to feel and he had to get that out somehow . . . we thought he was going to top himself. He'd be, what? 17."
"He used to do things if people would say 'Oh let's do this'. . . He didn't mean to hurt anybody, he didn't mean to get into trouble."
"I said 'Zen, we love you unconditionally."
Zenith felt like Campbell's own child - the pair have always been close.
"I was the first one who ever held him when he was born . . . he was mine, he felt like mine."
Zenith was dyslexic and had ADHD, so didn't find school particularly easy, but was always the type of person to stand up for the underdog, Campbell said.
"He always had a very kind heart. He was the apple of all our eyes.
"Everyone who met him, liked him. He was a cheeky, little monkey but gosh, he was such a cute wee boy.
"He was very lovable, very loving. Used to love cuddles . . . he had a very angelic-looking face, and he was, but there was that devil in him as well."
Zena loved animals, was a natural whiz with computers, and liked doing tricks on her bike and doing parkour.
Zena's relationship with her father was growing as well.
"Zen started to become his friend. He used to ring his father three times a day, every day, whether it was asking for things or just to see how he was. He sent photos to his dad just before all this happened."
Campbell has been trying to support Chris, Zena's father, but she is still trying to cope with her own grief.
"At the funeral I just sort of said 'oh Zenny'. It's hard to believe you're not going to see him again."
Campbell hadn't yet met with Zena since she began living as a woman, and is deeply sad she never will.
She missed a birthday phone call from Zena on February 8. Zena was dead by February 11.
"He was certainly a loved little boy. I don't think he realised how loved he was by a lot of people. He touched a lot of people's lives in a really positive way. . . everyone's going to miss him so much.
"He was such a little light, you know. A shining light that's been snuffed out too early."