Aramoana: Trying to forget

Ten years ago David Gray made Aramoana a byword for massacre. ALISON HORWOOD visits a tiny settlement stillcoming to terms with the memories of that bloody day.

Aramoana means simply path of the sea. But, 10 years ago tomorrow, the path led not to the tranquillity of Otago harbour but to a hell of violence and madness.

David Gray, who had holidayed in Aramoana since he was a boy, went on a lethal rampage, shattering the peace of the tiny town and writing its name in history.

By the time police shot him 23 hours later, 13 of his neighbours - including four children - lay dead.

Aramoana is a town trying hard to forget, but many reminders linger.

Many of those who lost loved ones have moved away to rebuild their lives. Some remain.

The sheep farm owned by the father of the youngest victim, 6-year-old Leo Wilson, stretches to a headland overlooking the massacre sites. Julie Holden, mother and ex-partner of victims Jasmine, and Garry, can look out her bedroom window and see Gray's old property.

A week after the rampage, locals razed Gray's crib. An oddly out-of-place Santa Fe-style house now stands in its place.

The gunman's ashes were scattered on the property and lie beneath the house's foundations.

Nestled in the dunes near the beach is a memorial to the dead. The triangular monument - symbol of strength and of peace - solemnly lists the names: Garry Holden, aged 38, Jasmine Holden, 11, Rewa Bryson, 11, Jim Dickson, 45, Tim Jamieson, 69, Vic Crimp, 72, Leo Wilson, 6, Dion Percy, 6, Ross Percy, 42, Vanessa Percy, 26, Aleki Tali, 41, Chris Cole, 62, and Sergeant Stu Guthrie, 41. Several years ago, Gray's name was scratched crudely at the top.

For the permanent residents and holidaymakers who occupy the 100-odd cribs, rubber-neckers have become a way of life. Pull up in a strange car, and curtains will slowly slide back. Ask about the day Gray went berserk and locals shake their heads and walk away.

"Why do people take so much pleasure in reliving it? says one. "Every time someone has been shot in this country in the past 10 years, Aramoana gets mentioned and we go through it all again."

"Let it rest and let people forget," says another.

Tui and Herbert Gibbs lived over the back fence from Gray and remember his parents bringing him and his two older siblings to the area as youngsters.

After their death, Gray moved into the basic weatherboard crib on Muri St.

There, say the Gibbs, he kept to himself and spent his time reading from his extensive library, riding his 10-speed bike into Port Chalmers for supplies or fossicking on the beach with his metal detector.

While most remember him as a crazed gunman, the Gibbs were probably the only people in townwho called David Gray a friend.

Mrs Gibbs describes him as a man who "snapped" after being ostracised for years by a group of beer-swilling, football-loving Port Chalmers men.

"We called them the football thugs, and if you didn't fit in they made your life hell," she recalls.

"Aramoana was a horrible place in those days. If David hadn't lost it, someone else would have.

"People can only take so much; everyone has their limit.

"David was a good man, a gentle man. He couldn't stand to see someone kick a dog, and didn't have a violent bone in his body."

Gray had held a firearms licence since 1984, and the Gibbs knew he had a few guns.

"Everyone does around here. Everyone uses them for the rabbits or the possums."

Less than a year before the massacre, they offered to set up a target for him so he could sharpen his skills as a marksman.

Mrs Gibbs knew he was interested in warfare and read Soldier of Fortune magazine, but Gray also retraced his father's Second World War path through Greece and was fascinated by history.

The morning of the shootings, the Gibbs passed Gray biking the 12km into Port Chalmers and offered him a ride.

"It's a beautiful day, Bert, I think I'll take the bike," he replied.

It was apparently in a shop in Port Chalmers, and on his return trip home, that he became agitated.

By 7.30 that night, Garry Holden's house was set alight and the first gunshots began to ring out.

Mr and Mrs Gibbs say Gray and Holden were old friends who had fallen out. He may have been targeted as the first victim, but the rest - including the children - must have been indiscriminate targets because Gray had very poor eyesight and was not wearing his glasses.

A roadblock prevented Mr and Mrs Gibbs from returning that night, but their teenage son, Darrin, helped police by hiding up a tree with a walkie-talkie and passing on information. He also lent a local police officer a .22 rifle.

Ten years on, says Mrs Gibbs, Aramoana has come a long way in healing its scars. Those who did not want the daily reminders chose to move away. New people arrived to dilute the memories, and fresh attitudes were introduced.

"Aramoana has changed a lot, and a few good things came out of the heartbreak. If anyone gets hassled, we say 'leave them alone.' Now everyone seems to keep an eye out for each other."

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