Rollie James Heke was a popular student among his peers while growing up in the West Coast town of Greymouth.


He was the "good-looking" all-rounder who is remembered by former classmates as being in touch with his Maori side and involved in cultural activities.

But fast forward 20 years and the 36-year-old labelled the "rural Rambo" is at the centre of a massive manhunt after shooting at police officers during a vehicle pursuit in Morrinsville.

The Herald takes a look at Heke's past

Heke grew up in the 1980s seaside Greymouth suburb of Cobden.

He attended Cobden School and Greymouth High School.

"He did the cultural stuff. He was popular and he was good looking," said a former classmate of his at Greymouth High School.

He remembered him as a popular all-rounder.

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Another contemporary described him as "a good guy".

But Heke's life is a far cry from his childhood days in the South Island.

He moved to the North Island, become involved in gangs, turned to crime, used guns and struggled with methamphetamine.

He became a "highly unpredictable" person who has hurt people close to him, police said today.

He's become so violent, people from his criminal past, including gang associates may be at risk.

"He is also known to commit acts of violence against associates, so those who may be assisting him should consider not only the police attention focused on them but also their own safety," Waikato police Detective Superintendent Chris Page said in a press conference today.

Heke is "well-connected" to the gang network.

"He has a wide criminal network who will protect him."

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Heke's extensive criminal record spans over about 10 years.

He has served jail time for aggravated robbery, the unlawful taking of a motor vehicle, driving while disqualified and the possession and supply of methamphetamine.

Heke's mother Marie Masalu, who still lives in Greymouth, touched on Heke's struggles with methamphetamine.

"Do you know as a mum you wish that your children aren't taking that kind of path," she told TVNZ last night.

"You always hope that your children are walking a good path.

"It was a shock to me to find out that Rollie has gone down that path.

Masalu said she has seen documentaries about people who are on methamphetamine and what it does to them.

"Inside I have spoken to a lot of girls in there who have been on that and they tell me what it does.

"Hearing their stories has kind of helped me understand where Rollie is at the moment in his mind and that's all I can say about my son and his walk and his journey in the drug world.

"As a mother I wish he didn't but he has, so all I say is that all for me I hope and pray that my son one day will walk the right track."

Road spikes laid at the cordon in Morrinsville on Monday. Photo / Belinda Feek
Road spikes laid at the cordon in Morrinsville on Monday. Photo / Belinda Feek

In December 2014, Heke, who was in Rimutaka Prison at the time, was involved in a major methamphetamine importing ring allegedly run from behind bars.

It is understood a large amount of meth was being imported into New Zealand, but the drugs were not being sold in the prison.

Heke was named as an alleged ringleader and was charged with conspiring to supply methamphetamine.

He was released from prison in February 2015, and the conditions of his parole expired in August last year.

Soon after, he featured on the Police 10-7 TV show after he breached his bail conditions in September.

At some stage he cut off his electronic monitoring bracelet.

He has been on the run since then, Page said.

He featured on the show again in March this year.

A police statement read, "Heke has gone on the run after cutting off his electronic monitoring bracelet and police warn that he is not to be approached because he is also considered dangerous."

He has several existing warrants to arrest for methamphetamine related offences and breaching bail conditions.

Heke resurfaced in the news on Monday after police named him as a person they would like to speak to in relation to the firearms incident in Morrinsville the previous day.

Police believe Heke led officers on a chase in Morrinsville on Sunday morning, before they were forced to flee when he shot at them.

They ran to surrounding paddocks while their patrol vehicles were riddled with bullet holes.

Police in Morrinsville on Monday night. Photo / Belinda Feek
Police in Morrinsville on Monday night. Photo / Belinda Feek

Two people were taken into custody on Sunday but police said Heke escaped on foot.

On Monday night, armed police surrounded a Morrinsville house and called for Heke to come out, firing teargas into the property. But despite a search of the house and a neighbouring property, there was no sign of him.

Following the intensive search for Heke, his mother made an emotional plea on TV1 for him to give himself.

"Please do the right thing ... turn yourself in, son," Masalu said.

"I don't want to lose another son. I want to keep you for as long as I can.

"Son, I will come and visit you. I will be there for you. The family loves you, they care about you and they want you to know - Rollie, we're all here for you."

In an impassioned plea she appealed directly to Heke: "It doesn't matter what anybody else says. It's what your whanau thinks about you and we love and care for you.

"Turn yourself in, son. I don't want to have to come and identify you in a morgue. That's from your mother."

Attempts to contact Heke's family in Greymouth this morning were rebuffed.

Greymouth police confirmed today they had been in touch with his family locally, while a police media stand up has been scheduled this afternoon with Detective Superintendent Chris Page regarding the ongoing search for Heke.

- Aditional reporting, Greymouth Star