Manhunt after gunman kills two people and flees on bicycle
Published 01/09/2014 | 07:30
A New Zealand town is on high alert as police hunt for a gunman they say killed two people and injured a third at an unemployment office before fleeing on a bicycle.
Police urged residents of Ashburton to remain indoors. Meanwhile, they scoured an area around the town's river and stormed a house. But after six hours, the gunman remained on the loose.
Police identified a person of interest in the case as John Henry Tully, a 48-year-old homeless man. Tully had been interviewed in recent weeks by the local newspaper about his struggles to find somewhere to live and had also written to politicians.
The incident began at about 10am local time when police said a man entered a Work and Income New Zealand office and started shooting.
A witness said the man was wearing a black balaclava and shot at two women, according to the Ashburton Guardian newspaper. Other witnesses told the paper the man was carrying a shotgun that may have been sawed down and fled on a bicycle.
Police focused a manhunt on an area around the Ashburton River, saying the man should not be approached and residents should stay inside their homes if they could. The New Zealand Herald newspaper reported that police let off a smoke grenade and smashed in a door at one home but found it empty.
Politician Winston Peters said in a statement that Tully had emailed his political party on August 14 about the difficulty of finding a place to live.
"We replied immediately and also followed up," Mr Peters said. "However, the emails kept bouncing back."
Mr Peters said Tully's email showed he had also written to other politicians.
Last month Tully told the Ashburton Guardian that he had previously worked in Australian mines, but had returned to his hometown and ended up living in a tent after being unable to secure government-assisted accommodation.
Ashburton Mayor Angus McKay said the town was very community-minded and the tragedy would affect many lives: "It just hits home real hard," he said, according to the Herald.
Ashburton is home to about 18,000 people and is 56 miles (90km) south-west of Christchurch.