The mother of a 5-week old baby girl who was in the back seat of a car stolen from a service station says the ordeal will haunt her for the rest of her life.
"You never think this type of stuff would ever happen to you, until it does," the Whangārei mum, who did not want to be identified, said.
It was the first time the mum had left home with her precious baby since her birth and she had stopped at BP Wylies on Maunu Rd, in Whangārei, about 11.36am on Wednesday.
"I was on my way to her first hearing test and running late when my gas light turned on so I stopped in at the BP to get gas and without thinking left my keys in the car."
Seizing the opportunity a man, who arrived on foot at the station, got in the car and drove off.
The mum said she could only watch in terror as the vehicle with her baby on the backseat disappeared.
"I was inside at the register and the person asked what pump I was at. As I looked up to where I was parked all I could see was my car moving and a person I didn't know in the front.
"I felt my heart jump out of my chest and started screaming. I just ran outside to see which way the car went."
Staff at the service station were quick to act and called for police help.
Police quickly found the vehicle dumped at a Kensington property and saw the man fleeing towards Russell Rd.
After a two-and-a-half hour search, with a drone and a police dog and handler, the man was not found and late yesterday was still on the run.
The mum was taken by police and reunited with her baby girl near the crashed car. A woman from a nearby house had taken the baby and comforted her.
"My daughter was in perfect health and practically slept through the whole thing. I was just glad she was back in my arms, I was so scared I didn't know if she had been hurt or what had happened to her," the mum said.
On Wednesday after reading some judgmental comments left at the bottom of news stories about the carjacking online, the mum felt hurt and wanted to respond.
"Yes I made the mistake of not locking my car. It was a split second decision that I'm going to regret for the rest of my life and believe me when I say I've been blaming myself for that since it happened.
"It's the worst feeling I've ever had. This incident has been replaying in my mind since it happened, and has been very traumatic for me.
"I wouldn't wish this feeling onto anyone. It's definitely made me rethink my actions when it comes to things like locking my car from now on, as for the thief I hope he is found so he can be held accountable.''
Her daughter had been sleeping and eating as normal after the incident, and she thanked Whangārei police for their quick response and the work done by the service station staff.
"I am forever grateful to them (police) and the wonderful staff at BP Wylies who stepped into action quickly with phoning the police and checking their security footage. There were also other customers who were trying to calm me down that I wish I could thank."
Acting Detective Sergeant Ryan Cooper said the man's reckless actions could have resulted in grave consequences.
"Our suggestion is that the man responsible should own up and hand himself in at his local Police station," Cooper said.
"Police would like to hear from anyone who witnessed the incident or can identify the man so we can hold him to account."
In a bid to identify the man police have released security camera photograph and a description.
The man is described as Māori, of solid build and was wearing a red and white chequered hoody, a white Champion branded baseball cap, black shorts and black shoes.
Cooper said while the baby's mother was inside paying for petrol, the man, who had been sitting across the road, got into the vehicle and drove off.
A short time later police found the vehicle, a silver Isuzu, dumped on Western Hills Drive near the ASB Stadium.
"Fortunately the young baby was located safely inside the vehicle," Cooper said.
"Ambulance staff assessed the baby as a precaution and she was reunited with her mother."
Anyone with information can contact Acting Detective Sergeant Ryan Cooper on 021 191 5935 or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.