Gunned down and lucky to be alive

By Rachel Tiffen, Jared Savage

A police cordon is set up around the shooting area. Photo / Greg Bowker
A police cordon is set up around the shooting area. Photo / Greg Bowker

Manpreet Singh was fast asleep when the heavy knocking came at his door. He got out of bed, opened the door, and found a breathless and upset Constable Robert Cato.

The officer rushed inside, telling Mr Singh and his flatmate Jagdeep Singh to drop to the ground. Two other housemates slept on, unawares.

"He said 'stay down and don't go near the windows'," Mr Singh said.

Minutes earlier Mr Cato's partner Constable Jeremy Snow had been shot three times - in each leg and an elbow - and was bleeding profusely several hundred metres away in a gutter.

Worried that the gunman might be listening to the police radio, Mr Cato used the telephone to call 111.

He told the students how upset he was at having to leave his partner behind.

The drama began as a routine patrol in Papatoetoe.

About 4.10am, the flashing hazard lights of a car parked in a long driveway on Buckingham Cres caught the attention of the young constables, and they pulled over to take a closer look.

Mr Snow, who was little more than 12 months out of police college, got out of the car first.

The probationary constable was barely on the driveway when semi-automatic gunfire rang out from the darkness.

Shot in both legs and an elbow, the 28-year-old fell to the ground screaming for help. One bullet severed an artery in his leg and he was bleeding to death.

More shots came from the darkness, and his partner had no choice but to leave his mate and run for his life while being shot at.

Mr Cato knocked on several doors before finding Mr Singh.

Soon after, three officers arrived and took Mr Cato away. He left promising to return in a few days and thank the housemates.

Meanwhile six armed officers wearing body armour rushed to their fallen colleague on the driveway and dragged him to safety.

Blood gushed from Mr Snow's wounds and dripped from the patrol car as he was driven to meet an ambulance at Great South Rd.

He was taken to Middlemore Hospital, where he had surgery.

Last night, Detective Inspector Mark Gutry said the constable was "awake and doing well" in the intensive care unit.

Surgeons said he could have died had it not been for the quick response of the officers who rescued him.

Those officers did not know where the gunman and his accomplices were.

The Counties Manukau district commander, Superintendent Mike Bush, yesterday applauded their decision to risk their own lives to retrieve Mr Snow from the dangerous position he was in.

Also at the scene of the shooting, Assistant Police Commissioner Viv Rickard agreed that the rescue was courageous.

"It is gutsy. We saw that in Napier [when police officer Len Snee was shot dead in May] and in other places throughout New Zealand in the last 12 months, and we have seen it again here today."

As Mr Snow was being taken to hospital, police started the hunt for the gunman.

They quickly found a "person of interest" near the shooting scene and a police dog sniffed out another, down a driveway past a trail of blood on nearby Allenby Rd.

Last night, one person was under arrest and police were seeking another.

About 40 detectives and specialist search officers were called in.

Yesterday afternoon, Mr Bush said the injured constable would probably have died had fellow officers not risked their own lives to pull him to safety.

"We have spoken to the surgeons and they believe if he hadn't received medical treatment as soon as he did he may no longer be with us," he said.

Police found a cache of arms at the shooting scene - a shotgun, a large-calibre pistol and a rifle.

Mr Bush said it was too early to tell which weapon inflicted the injuries "but we know it was a high calibre".

Forensics officers and specialist search teams continued searching in the Papatoetoe neighbourhood for more clues to help them piece together what Mr Bush called "quite a complex incident".

Nearby residents were in shock yesterday.

Rachele Mitchell, who lives next door to the shooting scene, said it was "scary being so close to home".

Her mother had seen a person - thought to be Mr Snow - lying in the gutter early that morning, and she had woken to black-clothed officers with guns and "police cars everywhere".

Across the road, Graeme Watson got a fright when he pulled the curtains.

"There were a couple of police with guns just sitting on the front lawn and I thought 'Oh hell'," he said.

Both were questioned by police and yesterday Mr Bush appealed to anyone in the neighbourhood who found suspicious articles to contact police or call the Crimestoppers phone line.

He said police still did not understand why their officer was gunned down or whether gangs were involved.

The arrested man was taken yesterday afternoon to Middlemore Hospital to be treat for bites inflicted by police dogs unleashed by the armed offenders squad.

- NZ Herald

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