'I could feel the air whoosh past my head': Witnesses recall surreal moment

By APNZ staff, NZ Herald

Local woman Rebecca Hopkinson says she is too scared to stay at home while the gunman was on the loose. Photo / Adam Bennett
Local woman Rebecca Hopkinson says she is too scared to stay at home while the gunman was on the loose. Photo / Adam Bennett

- Two people shot dead, another in serious condition
- Man in black balaclava fired shotgun in Work and Income office
- Police apprehend homeless man Russell John Tully
- THE SUSPECT: Interview with Tully reveals his state of mind

A witness to today's shooting tragedy in Ashburton said he saw a staff member from Work and Income run from the shop after the shooter yelling "You bastard, you've blown her to bits".

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At about 10am today a male entered the Work and Income office in the mid-Canterbury town and killed two people, with a third seriously injured.

The witness, who didn't want to be named, said he stopped his van in the middle of the road when he saw a man in a black balaclava with a shotgun on his back walk in to the Winz office.

"It was just surreal. I stopped and got out of the van because I thought 'that's not right' then I heard two shots and I legged it straight to the office."

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The witness said it "all felt like the movies" until police arrived and a cordon was put up.

He waited on the street with other people who had heard the shots that were fired.

"I didn't go in the office, I didn't want to see that."

A witness who was in the building at the time said a man wearing a black balaclava entered and shot two women, one of whom was interviewing him at the time.

He believed they were both Winz staff members.

"It was incredibly loud, I could feel the air whoosh past my head," he said.

He followed the man outside.

"He must have broken the gun down because he put it in his back pack," the witness said.

Two other people who had just left the Winz building saw a man wearing a balaclava and carrying a shotgun enter the premises.

Soon after they heard two shots.

A woman, also believed to be a staff member ran out and shouted at them to call the police, before running into the nearby medical centre.

Watching police activity from behind the police cordon local woman Rebecca Hopkinson, 35, said she was too scared to stay at her home on the other side of the riverbank where police were searching for the gunman.

"There's lots of hiding spots in the river. I live alone on a farm I've got a lot of neighbours around but even with the doors locked, the fact he's got a sawn off shotgun and he'll be pretty desperate."

Annie Smith of Ashburton's Childs Play Preschool said they were keeping around 40 children aged from 1 to 5-years-old away from the windows, had drawn the blinds, and had a security guard patrolling the building.

"We are so close to the river and the area he is supposed to be in."

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Ms Smith said some parents had come to collect their children, including one woman who had been visiting the Winz office at the time of the shooting.

"She came in, and it hadn't hit her until she came here and she saw Vince, our security man, outside. And then it suddenly hit her how serious it was.

"She said it was like being in a movie, she just didn't get it. And then she charged out and she just wanted to be with her kids."

Ms Smith said the children were too young to understand what was going on, unlike their parents.

"There is quite a bit of emotion and really frightened people. All we can do at this end is assure them that their children are safe."

"Hopefully we'll all get home tonight...it has definitely wrecked the lives of a few families around here today."

Nigel Heney, the owner of Columbus Coffee on Moore St, said the business was continuing to trade and customers were still coming in and out.

"I'm in Christchurch but I just talked to my manager and she said it had been steady...and there are lots of customers asking questions.

"Apparently The Warehouse is in lock-down though...in different parts of the town you are not allowed to move, the helicopter is flying around...if they don't find him by night it will be pretty scary."

- APNZ

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