Cambodian refugee Chheun Sean escaped his war-torn homeland with his parents and settled in New Zealand seeking a better life.
Despite the violence in Cambodia he had never seen a gun. That was until about 7pm on Wednesday when a robber wielding a firearm pointed a gun at him and demanded money as Mr Sean closed up his business, the Vegie Twins, on Kamo Rd.
It was the third armed robbery of a commercial business in Whangarei in as many days and the sixth in Northland in three weeks.
"This is the first time I have seen a gun and it's the first gun pointed at my head," Mr Sean said.
"Of course I was scared but I just wanted to stay calm and give him what he wanted."
Yesterday morning Mr Sean and his wife opened the shop doors as normal saying despite the traumatic robbery they couldn't afford not to trade. They work 11 hours every week day and are open on Saturday and Sunday.
Mr Sean said he was keen to get his story out in the media in the hope it would help track down the robber.
"He wiped me out of my whole day's taking." Mr Sean had just pulled down the main roller door when the robber appeared through a side door.
"He came in and pointed the gun at me. He was swearing and told me to give him the money."
Mr Sean complied and stepped behind the counter and handed over money out of the till. "My wife was stacking shelves and she could hear him swearing. She looked around and saw the gun being pointed at me and went to the back and rang 111."
The robber ran off toward Kamo Rd. Police arrived and a dog and handler searched the area unsuccessfully. The robber was described as Maori of medium build and in his early 20s. He was wearing a blue coloured sweatshirt with a blue scarf over his face.
Mr Sean said he had come to New Zealand as a 12-year-old to escape the violence only to have a gun pointed at him while in Whangarei. He had grown up in Auckland and ventured north to Dargaville in 1997 then to Whangarei the same year where he bought the business, the Vegie Twins. "We moved up here to try our luck and because of the opportunities. We just want to work. Live a normal life and raise the kids, you know.
"This is what my family moved away from. We didn't expect it here in New Zealand," he said.
Whangarei, Kaipara and Kaitaia Victim Support services co-ordinator Mandy Kahotea said such traumatic incidents impacted on the individual and wider community.
"Especially when people feel like their life has been threatened. The impact can be ongoing and while they might run on adrenalin to keep things going it can hit them weeks later."
A team of volunteers based out of the Whangarei police station offered support to victims and are able to help them if their case is taken through the court system.
Police are calling on anyone who saw a man acting suspiciously near Vegie Twins about 7pm on Wednesday.