Amber-Lee Friis, the beauty queen who went on to become a finalist in the Miss Universe New Zealand competition, died on Monday. She was 23.
Miss World New Zealand CEO Nigel Godfrey confirmed Friis’ passing in a Facebook tribute post on Tuesday.
“The world is a smaller place without her in it,” Godfrey wrote. “She had much more to give and it’s a terrible tragedy that she won’t be here to realize her unlimited potential. RIP Amber Lee, you’ve left us far, way too soon.”
Godfrey recalled what made Friis so special, calling her a “force to be reckoned with.”
“She was feisty, definitely didn’t take any prisoners, but she was a beautiful soul and you knew 100% what you got,” he added. “She was genuine, honest and she had an energy that few others possess, her heart was definitely in the right place.”
“We liked and respected her and were very proud to call her a friend long after the competition ended,” Godfrey continued. “Amber Lee transformed her life, and in fact her experience with us, and into an incredibly positive force for good. Over the years, she has been loyal and supportive and we especially appreciate it.”
At present, it is unclear how Friis died.
In a statement to PEOPLE, the New Zealand Police Department confirmed that they responded to a “sudden death” on May 18 and that the death had been referred to the coron.
From Auckland, Friis was one of the finalists during the Miss Universe New Zealand competition 2018, according to her Facebook page.
The achievement marked an important milestone for the young model, who struggled for years with her confidence after being bullied by her classmates because of her sunburnt skin and eyes, NZ Stuff reported.
“I remember sitting in my room one night thinking how hard life could be. At a young age, you feel like the world is weighing on your shoulders,” she told the outlet in 2018. “I had a negative outlook on everything. I imagined me myself as an angry, fat, old lady, but then I thought: this is not what I want to be. “
Friis said her 18th birthday was a turning point, as she decided to set goals, save money and exercise, according to NZ Stuff.
Eventually she was contacted by someone who worked with the Miss Universe NZ competition and later became one of 20 finalists to compete for the crown.
“I was like a lost sheep before I started to write down goals and started focusing on what I wanted to do. I felt stuck and helpless. No one ever needs to feel that way,” she told NZ Stuff. “I want to help young girls see their potential and create a life plan to achieve it.”
Following the devastating news, many who knew Friis expressed their heartbreak on social media.
“It is with immense sadness that we recognize the sudden passing away of a beautiful and talented Wahine Amber-lee Friis,” wrote The Talent Tree, an Auckland-based agency that once represented Friis.
“Amber-Lee was one of our original talent tree models and a 2018 Miss Universe NZ (Miss World New Zealand) finalist,” the agency continued. “Our sincere aroha and condolences to Amber-Lee’s family and friends. R.I.P beautiful lady 😪❤😪”
Miss World New Zealand also wrote on her Facebook page: “Our sincere condolences to Amber-lee Frii’s friends and whānau, which we have just learned from The Talent Tree have passed away. Continue to shine bright, Amber-lee, just as we remember you. “