Woman trapped in house during Palmerston North siege

By Morgan Tait, Solbin Kang, Alecia Rousseau

• Fugitive Caleb Peter Kovaleski has surrendered peacefully to police ending a nearly two day standoff
• The entire Palmerston North suburb of Cloverlea was in lockdown, but cordons have now been lifted
• The 25-year-old father of five went on the run after a high speed pursuit with police on Thursday morning
• He was believed to have a gun and had a number of arrest warrants for dishonesty and driving offences
• Residents were locked out of their homes overnight and had properties searched as armed police flooded the area

Police have found a gun at the scene of an armed stand-off with a wanted man in Palmerston North.

Caleb Peter Kovaleski was arrested today after allegedly fleeing police in a grey Mazda about 10.45am yesterday, sparking an overnight manhunt.

Police tonight confirmed they had found a firearm at the scene of Kovaleski's arrest.

Earlier today, a woman trapped in her home with her one-week-old baby watched as armed police negotiated with an armed fugitive, before cutting a hole in the roof of her neighbour's house to get him.

The woman, who gave birth by caesarean last week, was holed up inside the Cloverlea cordon with her new-born since Caleb Peter Kovaleski fled police in a grey Mazda about 10.45am yesterday.

Too shaken from the ordeal to be named, the woman told the Herald how she was stuck in her Willowstream Grove house and that her partner and other children were not allowed to come home.

Her fears escalated when her dog started barking this afternoon.

"My dog started barking continuously and I knew something was going on," she said. "I opened the curtains and an AOS member popped up for behind my fence."

She said he waved at her and gave her the thumbs up - but then she heard a man and woman screaming from the house next door and then nine of the armed police arrived at her door.

Armed offenders squad search a house in the Cloverlea area of Palmerston North. Photo / Alecia Rousseau
Armed offenders squad search a house in the Cloverlea area of Palmerston North. Photo / Alecia Rousseau

"I could hear them speaking outside and then nine of them came to my door and questioned me about my neighbour. The AOS began lining the fence with their guns out.

"Police had a loud speaker with [Kovaleski's] dad on a pre-recorded message asking him to, 'Please come out, put everything down and we will talk. We know you are in the house, it is better for you to come out. Open the window or the front door, come to the driveway, let's talk'."

She said the loudspeaker "went on for some time" and the police then moved to an A-frame house one door down.

"They cut a large hole in the roof and went in to get him. He came out willingly after that."

She did not think Kovaleski knew the people in the house, she said.

The house where the man appeared to be detained from was the only one that remained cordoned off, but police appeared to have left the scene by about 6.30pm, said a reporter at the scene.

Willowstream Grove only became an area of interest later today, after a heavy police presence in the Fox Place and Peters Ave areas yesterday and this morning.

However, residents have reported having their homes searched in numerous parts of the suburb.


Police announced the standoff ended without incident at 4.15pm.

"Police have peacefully resolved the situation in Palmerston North where a man has been brought safely into custody," said a tweet from the agency at 4.24pm.

An NZME reporter at the scene said Kovaleski was seen being driven out of the cordon area in a detective's car.

He was wearing a black beanie and was driven out from the Benmore Ave cordon.

Manawatu Police Area Commander Inspector Sarah Stewart thanked the local community after the ordeal.

"I would particularly like to acknowledge the patience, assistance and support of the local community, who have rallied together to support each other and the police while we worked to resolve the situation.

"Our focus will now turn to facilitating the safe return of people to their homes, and on the criminal investigation that will follow.

"This will include ongoing scene examinations at the property involved."

The standoff ended about an hour after cordons were relaxed. Police relaxed the Cloverlea cordon around 3pm when residents on Peters Ave, Fox Place and Tararua Tce were let back into their homes.


Kovaleski was in contact with friends, family and police throughout the ordeal.

At 3pm a friend of Kovaleski said that he had "just spoken" to the fugitive on the phone within the last five minutes.

"He just wants to talk to his ex and his kids," said the friend, who wished not to be named.

In a Facebook post this morning that appears to be written by the fugitive, Kovaleski criticised police.

"I won't [sic] the police to know all u had to do was let me speak to. One person."

The post attracted numerous responses from family, friends and the public to give himself up.

He replied: "Hey whys every one peeking I'm algood I'm alreadu in Hawaii [sic]."


The standoff was marked by repeated pleas from police, family and friends for the gunman to give himself up.

At a press conference this afternoon, Ms Stewart said the lockdown in Cloverlea was "incredibly stressful" for the community.

"This is an operation where we have an absolute focus that everyone is safe with no one hurt or injured. We have the absolute focus on resolving this safely and would really like Caleb to hand himself into police."

He needs to do this "for the community's sake and for his own sake," she said.

"We are hoping and wanting Caleb to give himself up ... so we can resolve this successfully and safely."

Ms Stewart said Kovaleski has a number of warrants to arrest for a range of offences including driving and dishonesty offences, and when police tried to stop him yesterday he was "believed to be in possession of a firearm".

Police have been in communication with him, she said.

She said specialist staff were working strategically to resolve the situation and staff had been "refreshed" with new officers.

Police were "absolutely overwhelmed" by support from the community, she said.

It was believed that he was not with anyone else.

The father and sister of the man at the centre of a manhunt have appealed for their loved one to hand himself in.

The sister of Kovaleski pleaded with her brother to give himself up for the sake of his children.

"Please Caleb stop this now. We all love you. I know you probably [are] not worried about other people at the moment but do it all for ya (sic) kids," wrote Sonya Kovaleski in an emotional post on Facebook this morning.

She said she loved her brother and hoped to see him soon.

Jim Antcliff, the "whangai" adoptive father of the armed man, also made a heartfelt Facebook plea to Caleb to surrender.

"Love you son. Son there's family's and KIDS they need their beds son ...let me come get you son.

"We travelled so many journeys ...this is not the last ..do you hear me son ..this is not the last of our journeys."

He also apologised to everyone who had been forced to spend the night away from their homes.

"To all the families and especially kids ..I'm sorry for your inconvenience. He's a good man ..and he will be sorry that you all are not at home."

He said despite the latest events Caleb loved kids and family and animals.

Mr Antcliff is afraid of what will happen to his son.

He said the 25-year-old father-of-five had ended up in a bad place with his latest partner.

He was a good father and son but had an unstable mind at the moment so anything could happen.

Mr Antcliff was worried his son would either hurt himself or police.


Numerous people locked inside the cordon gave accounts of what they could see unfolding.

One resident inside the cordon said police were currently entering a property on the corner of Bendigo St and Rosedale Cres.

The resident also said he heard smashing glass.

Another said that "several shots were fired" in the Herbert Ave area.

"Police seem to be busy. They are pointing their guns along the street," the resident said.

They also reported helicopters buzzing ahead, and armed police throughout the suburb.

Armed offenders squad were also seen going into a house on the corner of Rosedale Cres and Willowstream Grove.

There were widespread reports of dogs barking and glass smashing.

A number of police vehicles with lights flashing and at speed were earlier seen driving through the Cloverlea Tavern cordon - including two police cars, a large black SUV with tinted windows and large white van, also with tinted windows.

The Fire Service also had two crews now parked in the tavern carpark.

Cloverlea resident Shannon said she had been hunkered inside her home since 12.30pm yesterday with the doors and windows shut tight and curtains pulled across.

"It's still the same. We're still in lockdown, which is not fun," said the mother-of-one.

Police on the scene in the Cloverlea area of Palmerston North. Photo / Alecia Rousseau
Police on the scene in the Cloverlea area of Palmerston North. Photo / Alecia Rousseau

The woman said an eerie silence had descended on the neighbourhood as armed police patrolled either end of the road and a continuous stream of police drove along the otherwise-deserted street.

"It was pretty quiet. I was constantly looking out the window and all I could see were police cars going up and down, up and down the street all night."

She said she had spent the night with her 11-month-old son after her partner was held up at the cordon when he knocked off from work.

"My partner was trying to get home but they wouldn't let him in. He ended up staying the night at a workmate's house."

The couple had kept in phone contact during the evening to help get through the long hours.

A number of neighbours were out when the cordon was put in place and were forced to spend the night elsewhere.

"My neighbours left their home just before they closed the road so they rang me last night and asked me to feed their dog."

She said she was keeping her eye on Facebook pages to find out the latest developments in her suburb and hoping news would come soon that she could leave her home.

A resident near the cordon said police seemed to have scaled back their numbers overnight but car loads of AOS members appeared around 8am.

Police told her they hoped to resolve the situation today.


Scores of families were forced to spend last night elsewhere in the city as the suburb remained under a tight cordon. A refuge centre was set up at the Cloverlea Tavern for those affected.

Workers from the tavern have put a call out for those needing a change of clothes to take advantage of items gathered from the community.

The number of people in the carpark reached at least 100 cars and at least 100 people seeking refuge at the temporary welfare centre.

St Michael's Church marae in the suburb of Highbury also opened its doors to Cloverlea residents who were not able to return to their homes.

Benmore Ave resident Robin Inwood said he and his wife stayed by the cordon until early this morning, hoping to return home.

But when they found out marae had opened their doors, they decided to stay there for the night.

He said police escorted about 30 people to their homes last night.

Most were people who required urgent medication, he said.

Police had checked their homes before residents entered and they weren't then allowed to leave.

A Maori warden at the marae said about 20 people stayed overnight, including a family with a young child.

The marae would be open until the cordon was lifted.

The rapid relief team have arrived at the welfare centre to provide community support to stranded locals.

One man who was forced to spend the night in his work van outside Cloverlea Tavern said he shifted to the Benmore Ave cordon to try and get warmth from the sun.

Still in his high-vis work gear the middle-aged man said he was frustrated by the delay and lack of communication.

House where the gunman surrendered. Photo / Supplied
House where the gunman surrendered. Photo / Supplied

"I've had to take the day off work and police haven't been giving me a lot of information. My phone is flat and I have no internet access so I have no choice but to stay at the cordon and wait and see what happens."

A married couple who slept in their car outside the Benmore Ave cordon said they didn't want to leave just in case the fugitive was caught and the cordon lifted.

They had to turn their car on constantly throughout the night to keep warm.

The woman said she felt frustrated because they didn't leave their Cloverlea home until 5pm and were not aware they would not be able to return.

She said police should have been knocking on doors telling residents to not go out if they didn't need to.

During the night one of the children had to go to Palmerston North Hospital to get vital medical equipment.

She had a cat and dog that had been left locked inside for more than 24 hours and she was very concerned for their welfare.

The family had incurred steep accommodation costs as well as buying phone chargers as a result of being blocked from their homes.

One woman spent nearly nine hours in her car before heading to the marae.

She returned to the tavern this morning to see if she could go home to get her medication but was told this was not possible.


Police were this morning quizzing residents at the Cloverlea Tavern about who lived at the property, if there were firearms and how many animals in each home.

Vehicles were still leaving the suburb but undergoing thorough searches before exiting the cordon.

They were still hopeful of resolving the situation peacefully.

Cloverlea Primary School and Kindergarten will be closed today and people inside the wide cordon are asked to stay inside their homes.

Armed police and armed offenders squad members continue to search for the 25-year-old who has evaded capture since yesterday morning.

Police said their priority is to keep residents safe while the wanted man remains on the run.

"We continue to appreciate the patience being shown by local residents throughout this event. We understand this incident is proving to be disruptive and that people want to go back to their homes and return to their routines.

"However, our priority in this case is to keep the public safe. Therefore, the cordons will remain in place until further notice."

Those caught inside the cordon were asked to remain vigilant keeping doors and windows locked and reporting any suspicious behaviour to police.

People with empty houses were asked to contact police in order to have their property searched before returning back home.

- NZ Herald

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