John Roughan 's Opinion

John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

NZ memories: Thirteen killed in Aramoana massacre

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150 years of memories: In 1990, we knew horror.

A utility vehicle belonging to one of the victims, Mr Garry Holden, outside David Gray's house. File Photo / NZ Herald
A utility vehicle belonging to one of the victims, Mr Garry Holden, outside David Gray's house. File Photo / NZ Herald

Aramoana on the Otago Peninsula was a little seaside settlement like thousands of others around New Zealand at the time - a collection of old baches, or cribs as they are called in the south, huddled in scrub and silence.

Not far from a city, they were ideal for a weekend break. They also attracted loners.

David Malcolm Gray, aged 33, had known Aramoana since he was a boy. His parents used to bring their three children there. David was the youngest.

When he came to live permanently he seemed harmless. Neighbours said he kept to himself, spent much of his time reading or fossicking on the beach with his metal detector.

They knew he had firearms in his crib but, as they said, everyone around there had rifles, for shooting rabbits or possums.

They also knew he was interested in war and read Soldier of Fortune magazines. He had been to Greece to see where his father had fought in the Second World War.

Some days he would ride his 10-speed bike into Port Chalmers for supplies. He had enemies in the town. His neighbours, Bert and Tui Gibbs, called them "football thugs - if you didn't fit in they made your life hell."

They said he had been in Port Chalmers the day it began to happen. When he came home in the evening he went to the house of another neighbour, Garry Holden, who had never got along with him, and he set fire to Holden's home.

Then he started shooting people.

One of the first policemen on the scene, Sergeant Stewart Graeme Guthrie, confronted him and was shot dead.

Nearby homes were evacuated and armed police reinforcements arrived. In darkness they searched for the gunman but could not find him. Shots were heard during the night.

At dawn they put up a helicopter and Gray fired at it. Around 1 pm a police anti-terrorist squad was flown to the area and began to move in. Shortly after 4pm a teargas canister exploded and an assault team ran from a house where Gray was thought to be.

About 45 minutes later the squad surrounded a second house. Close to 6pm, more than 22 hours after the shooting had started, Gray was felled by shots to his face and chest.

"Kill me, kill me," he had screamed before the bullets hit him. Police said he asked them again to kill him in the 15 minutes it took for him to die.

He had killed 13 people, four of them children.

A week later Aramoana people burned down his house. Some left the district, those that remained did not want to talk about the tragedy for many years after. This sort of thing did not happen in New Zealand, did it?

What are your memories of the 1990 Aramoana shootings? Leave your comments below

John Roughan

John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald. A graduate of Canterbury University with a degree in history and a diploma in journalism, he started his career on the Auckland Star, travelled and worked on newspapers in Japan and Britain before returning to New Zealand where he joined the Herald in 1981. He was posted to the Parliamentary Press Gallery in 1983, took a keen interest in the economic reform programme and has been a full time commentator for the Herald since 1986. He became the paper's senior editorial writer in 1988 and has been writing a weekly column under his own name since 1996. His interests range from the economy, public policy and politics to the more serious issues of life.

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