David Kuka was killed at home in Tauranga in February. This week it was revealed his murder was believed to be a case of "mistaken identity".
In the wake of the news, at a community gathering where Kuka was a familiar face, Scott Yeoman met two people who knew him well.

To David Rawiri Kuka, she was "Mumma Sue".

The last time the two friends saw each other, a couple of weeks before he was murdered, she delivered him a gift.

"I had a leather jacket that I'd said to him, I'd like to give it to you, I don't use it," the 63-year-old, who only wanted to be identified as Sue, said of that final meeting.

Advertisement

"And I actually took it down to his work and he was rapt. He got it all cleaned up and he was just so pleased."

Kuka and Sue first met about four and a half years ago at a community gathering where Sue was helping feed homeless and vulnerable people in Tauranga.

At a similar gathering this week, Sue spoke with the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend about the leather jacket and the last time she saw "lovely" David.

"I just keep seeing his face – 'oh wow, Mumma Sue, I didn't think you would come through'."

Kuka was shot execution-style at his Gate Pā home on February 11.

This week, after extensive inquiries over the past three months, head of the murder investigation, Detective Inspector Lew Warner, said it was believed the killing was a case of "mistaken identity".

The 52-year-old's death shook the street community and the volunteers who helped at the dinners every week.

"It was so sad. I just couldn't believe it when I read that it was him," Sue said.

Advertisement

"I just ... I actually ... I did cry and I think I got hold of Kevin [another volunteer] and said: it's our David. I was devastated."

His absence from the community dinners took some getting used to.

"After his death, a few times I would come down here and I would think, oh my God, David's not here," Sue said.

She visited the Kuka family to give her condolences. She saw her friend but the image was hard to comprehend.

"To me, it just wasn't him. It just did not look like him at all."

Kuka was found with a serious head injury at his Wilrose Place home and died at 11.15pm, soon after emergency services arrived.

Detective Warner said Kuka was last seen playing his guitar in his room a few hours before his murder. The shooting was believed to have happened about 10pm.

Sue said when she first met Kuka all those years ago he was "sort of a closed book".

"It took a bit to get to know him and him trust you."

But over the years they became good friends and managed to work their way through some differences of opinion.

She described Kuka as a gentle guy who wanted everyone to love Jesus.

Religion was an ongoing but good-natured battle Kuka and Sue had.

"Every time it would be, 'Mumma Sue you need Jesus in your life'."

Kuka had a strong faith and was not put off by Sue's strongly worded responses to those suggestions.

"I do miss him. I miss him rarking me up," she said.

Kuka had lived at the second-hand shop where he died for some time and had flatmates.

He went to the community dinners, Sue said, "for a feed and companionship".

He wasn't there every week but was a familiar face.

"There was another guy that was here, a volunteer, and they used to sit and talk about the Bible, because they were both Christian."

Kuka was caring and helpful, Sue said.

"He would bend over backwards to help – clean up, set up. He was very polite."

Sue's voice changed at one point when talking about Kuka. It softened.

"He was easy to talk to; I could tell him things that people don't know about."

She started to choke up.

"He was a friend. A bloody good friend. He was lovely."

"He came and went. He had the loveliest face. He had beautiful eyes and they sparkled sometimes."

Sue was not the only person Kuka called mum.

There was also Jan.

Kuka and Jan's friendship started about 10 years ago.

"Could be longer," Jan said. "Seems like forever ago. I met him through the Salvation Army."

The 76-year-old, who only wanted to be identified by her first name, helped Kuka through a tough period in his life and they saw each other regularly through the years.

"He came and went. He had the loveliest face. He had beautiful eyes and they sparkled sometimes."

Jan said Kuka was a "gentle giant" with "a very strong faith".

"You never had a conversation where God didn't come into it."

She said he was also a caring person who "would have given you the shirt off his back".

"Just his nature – he wouldn't have killed a fly, he was lovely."

Jan said she knew from the beginning it must have been the wrong man who was killed.

She was shocked by the news.

"Somebody rang me very early the next morning. Nobody would have wanted to murder him. No one would have any reason to. He was a peaceful person."

Jan saw Kuka for the last time a couple of weeks before he died.

She also went and saw him after.

"I know a lot of his family members. One of them invited me to go and pay my respects to him, which I was thrilled to do."

She said it had been a difficult few months since then.

"It's just hard going through it. I went through it when he died, then I went through it when I was told what happened; now I'm going through it again. It's tough."


Background

As a young boy, Kuka was brought up on Matakana Island by his grandmother before he settled in Greerton. He went to Greerton School and Tauranga Boys' College.

Self-employed master carver James Tapiata, from Te Puna, said earlier this week that Kuka was of Ngāi Te Rangi and Ngāti Porou descent. Kuka's late mother and Tapiata's father were cousins.

Tapiata described Kuka as a passionate and gifted carver.

Kuka is survived by his four children and his brothers and sisters.

Police want to speak to anyone who recognises this vehicle. Photo / Supplied
Police want to speak to anyone who recognises this vehicle. Photo / Supplied

Help needed

Anyone who has any information including seeing a silver vehicle in the area on the night of the shooting around the relevant time should call police.

Ring Tauranga police on 07 577 4300 or call the Crimestoppers line anonymously via 0800 555 111.

Police want to speak to anyone who recognises this vehicle. Photo / Supplied
Police want to speak to anyone who recognises this vehicle. Photo / Supplied