Return to Aramoana

By Lea Jones

November 13, 1990, dawned like any other for Chiquita Holden - a 9-year-old who would be described in reports of that terrible day as cheeky, strong-minded and full of life.

By the day’s end she was in hospital with bullet wounds and had lost her sister, father and many friends to lone gunman David Gray.

Now, 15 years on, engaged to be married and mother to a 3-year-old boy, Chiquita has organised a memorial service for anyone affected by those terrifying 22 hours.

She has previously never told her full story to the public. Even among her friends, not all know what she went through.

"I guess now that I’m an adult I think it’s time my story was told."

Chiquita remembers every detail of the day Gray went on his rampage, killing 13 people and injuring three others.

"I remember everything, right down to the black bike-pants and fluorescent green top I was wearing - very 90s."

It was a sunny day and as usual Aramoana was serene.

Residents were out and about enjoying the sunshine when Chiquita, her sister Jasmine, 11, and Rewa Bryson, 11, the adopted daughter of her father’s partner, Julie Anne Bryson, arrived home from school.

No one could have predicted the terror that would be unleashed within hours, but there are now few people in New Zealand who do not know the disturbing details.

Many say it was Chiquita’s bravery, running wounded from Gray’s gun to raise the alarm, which saved others.

But this well-spoken young woman says she is no hero; instinct simply took over.

She recalls arriving home with Jasmine and Rewa to find her father, Garry Holden, an automotive electrician, busy with a client. So the girls went to Julie Anne’s home.

There, Julie Anne suggested they write letters to their mothers, while she prepared dinner.

After dinner, Jasmine and Rewa wanted to go for a bike ride, but Rewa’s bike was broken so Garry took them to his place where his tools were. Chiquita stayed behind to do the dishes.

After her chores were done, Chiquita wandered the 100m home and walked "right into the middle of it".

"The girls were standing outside and we heard the gun shots.

"Rewa said, in this tone with no emotion, ‘Garry’s getting shot’. It was like a really bad soap opera."

They ran back into the house and huddled under a table just inside the door. Chiquita was last in and Gray’s first target when he came inside and fired.

The bullet went through her left arm and into her chest, embedding itself in her abdomen.

"I think it was the force of the shot that sent me out the door. From there I just got up and ran. I wasn’t scared at all. I think I just went into survival mode."

Chiquita ran past her father, lying face down, surrounded by blood.

"I think I knew he was dead."

But she hoped she was wrong. She remembers telling a nurse many hours later in hospital that she would need a bigger room, "because my sister and father had been shot and they’d be coming soon".

"No one really told me what was going on. Deep down I knew they weren’t coming but a child needs to hope."

Bleeding heavily, Chiquita made the decision to run to Julie Anne’s.

"When I got to Julie Anne’s I said ‘David’s gone crazy. He shot me and he shot Dad’."

Still, the 9-year-old was not fearful.

"I was in survival mode. It must have been the adrenaline."

After calling 111, Julie Anne wrapped Chiquita’s wounds with a towel and bundled her into a van.

"We drove past the house again and it was on fire by then and David was standing on a grass bank, metres away, shooting at us."

They drove to the outskirts of Aramoana where Chiquita was put into an ambulance.

"I was fully awake. They were telling me I was being brave, but it didn’t really hurt.

"I remember telling the ambulance driver he needed to slow down because there were a lot of potholes on that road."

It was several days before she learned the full extent of what had happened. Thirteen people, most of whom Chiquita knew, had been killed before Gray died in a shoot-out with police 22 hours after the ordeal began.

From here, Chiquita’s memories become sketchy. She does not remember her father and sister’s funeral or the memorial service held shortly after the incident.

"I remember every single part of the actual event, but then it’s like I’ve repressed memories after it."

The hundreds of cards and letters she received while in hospital are still her most prized possessions.

"I didn’t do it at the time, but now I really want to thank everyone who wrote. It was amazing getting mail from all over the country from kids, like me, who said they were sorry for what had happened to me."

Chiquita moved to Auckland with her mother, Julie Holden, and changed her name for the 12 months she lived there.

"That was my way of escaping it. I just needed that time to come to terms with things."

She returned to Dunedin in 1991 with her mother and has lived there ever since. She has lived again in Aramoana at different times and says she still loves the settlement.

"That’s not what Aramoana is about. It’s still a gorgeous little place and I would feel happy bringing my children up there."

Perhaps surprisingly, she also harbours no anger towards Gray. She admits that had he lived, she would have some questions.

"I would ask him why. What drove him to do that and what could have been done, what could we have done to help him."

She also spares thoughts for the gunman’s family.

"He had family and friends who would have been just as hurt by this and are just as much victims as the family of the people who died.

"But society doesn’t think like that. It’s like they haven’t got the right to grieve."

She also refuses to think of herself as a victim and says she has lived a fairly typical life.

"Everyone has bad things happen, but there’s no point dwelling or being angry ... Sure, I’ve had my moments, but if you can’t move on you just end up a bitter old lady."

Instead, she has turned to organising a memorial service for the 15th anniversary of the tragedy on November 13 and in the future hopes to help other victims of tragedy.

"It will be a day to reflect, to celebrate and reminisce."

The day will consist of a picnic at the Aramoana Domain, a jazz band playing in the background and speeches by some invited guests.

"It’ll be hard, of course, but I want to focus on the positive." And, she knows there is lots to talk about.

"Time might heal, but it certainly doesn’t take away the memories."

- Otago Daily Times

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