Suspicious fires and tit-for-tat shootings, including nearly 100 rounds fired into a suburban house with five children inside, have seen Tauranga caught in the middle of a gang turf war. The fatal shootings of two men in McLaren Falls this week - believed to be unconnected to the previous violence - nevertheless created fear among law-abiding citizens when the violence spilled into a quiet suburban street.
When simmering tensions between the Mongrel Mob and the Mongols in Tauranga boiled over a few weeks ago, the police arranged peace talks between the gangs.
The Mongols arrived in town last year; the first New Zealand chapter of an international motorcycle gang with a fearsome reputation for violence in the United States and Australia.
Their president Jim David Thacker, JD for short, was one of the thousands of individuals deported from Australia for failing "good character" grounds under section 501 of the immigration law.
He was a member of the Bandidos motorcycle gang at the time, another international motorcycle gang, but soon fell out with the leadership in New Zealand.
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So JD Thacker "patched over"; trading the Bandidos colours for those of the Mongol Nation - considered the most dangerous gang in the United States - and was given the mantle of president.
Around 20 others, many of them "501s" from Australia, joined Thacker to form the first Mongols chapter in New Zealand.
Their presence, and perceived lack of respect to established gangs in the region, soon rubbed their rivals up the wrong way.
The Bay of Plenty has long been a stronghold for the Filthy Few, Greazy Dogs, Mongrel Mob and Black Power.
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In recent years, the Head Hunters - a longtime Auckland gang - moved into town and members of Australian gangs the Rebels, Comancheros and Bandidos are seen regularly on the roads.
Everyone kept to themselves, stayed in their own turf, with no overt acts of violence which spilled into the public. The arrival of the Mongols upset the equilibrium.
First, someone torched three cars parked on the driveway to Thacker's home in Papamoa last October. Security cameras on the outside of the property captured all the action, though by the time the police turned up, the files had been erased.
On New Year's Eve, a barbershop in Greerton linked to the Mongols caught fire but soon sputtered out.
Someone came back in late January to smash each window pane in the shop front. If the message wasn't clear, a few days later, the barbershop and tattoo studio on Chadwick St was gutted by fire, damaging neighbouring businesses.
The retribution was swift .
Early one morning, a residential home linked to the Mongrel Mob was riddled with bullets fired from semi-automatic weapons.
Police collected nearly 100 empty bullet cases which littered the street outside the house. Five children were inside at the time.
Detectives investigating the shooting at Hairini are working on the theory the attack was ordered by the Mongols, who blame the Mongrel Mob for the barber shop fire.
The conflict escalated within hours, with reports of semi-automatic gunshots at a rural address in Te Puke where members of the Mongol Nation live.
Several 111 calls were made by frightened residents on No 2 Rd around 1.50pm on a Tuesday afternoon, which led to a large number of police cars, including the new Armed Response Team and the Eagle helicopter, swarming the area.
The following day, two Mongol associates, aged 19 and 23, were charged in the Tauranga District Court with unlawful possession of a pistol.
The pair were granted interim name suppression and bail, although the investigation into the arson and both shootings is ongoing.
It's understood the pair were arrested while walking towards a cache of semi-automatic firearms hidden under a bridge. The police had arrived first.
"This behaviour and level of violence is completely unacceptable and has no place in our communities," Detective Senior Sergeant Greg Turner said in a press release.
Following the tit-for-tat shooting, the police called for calm heads to prevail.
A meeting was convened between Thacker and a senior leader of the Tauranga chapter of the Mongrel Mob, to sit down together on neutral ground with police present.
The Mongrel Mob aired grievances about how they had controlled certain streets and suburbs in Tauranga for decades.
Thacker interrupted to say "I don't give a f***", or words to that effect.
It's this brazen approach of the Australian gangs which has ruffled feathers in the New Zealand gang landscape, where there is respect shown - and even friendships - between rival gangs.
New Zealand had a long history of rival gangs warring with each other from the 1970s through to the 1990s, although the tit-for-tat violence largely eased as the rebellious young men with patches on their backs mellowed with age.
Older, wiser heads knew what gang war meant: constant pressure from the police and always looking over your shoulder.
As the metaphorical smoke cleared during the ceasefire, the various gangs were in a stalemate. Nobody could move as all the territory was roughly divvied up.
As long as no one made an aggressive move into someone else's town or turf, the overt violence which made front page headlines and energised politicians looking for votes in election year remained in check.
Cynical detectives wryly noted the methamphetamine market, in which senior members of influential gangs soon became significant players, was so profitable, there was more than enough room for everyone.
It was smart business to get along, rather than attract unwanted attention. Surveillance jobs recorded members of rival gangs - the Hells Angels, Highway 61, the Head Hunters, Mongrel Mob, Black Power - visiting one another at home.
And this precarious state of peace has, by and large, been kept in place until relatively recently.
The arrival of the Australian gangs, or other deportees who "patched over" to existing New Zealand gangs, without doubt changed the local landscape, researcher Dr Jarrod Gilbert told NZME in October.
"They are bold, a different culture, and seemingly not afraid of anybody. Without question, it's creating issues."
New Zealand gangs were "moribund" with dropping membership and methamphetamine addiction "ripping apart" some groups, said Gilbert, until the Rebels, Australia's largest motorcycle club, arrived around 2010 to "breathe new life" into the scene.
Chapters of the Rebels sprouted up like mushrooms around the country, says Gilbert, as existing gang members "patched over" to wear new colours.
Shortly after, the Bandidos and the Outlaws, two other international gangs, arrived to jostle for position. Gilbert described them as "New Zealand franchises" where existing local gang members switched allegiances to new colours.
This period of dramatic growth coincided with the advent of the "501" deportees. To take the global business analogy further, Gilbert says international groups like the Comancheros and Mongols "set up shop themselves", as opposed to the franchise model.
"It's the perfect storm in some ways. In a crowded room, someone invariably gets elbowed. When that happens in the gang scene, an elbow tends to escalate," said Gilbert.
"We've seen that before in the 70s and 80s. And we're seeing that now. The question is how far it goes."
The tensions between the Mongrel Mob and the Mongol Nation seemed to ease following the peace talks.
There was an assumption around Tauranga the deaths of two men near McLaren Falls on Tuesday night was an escalation of the turf war, although a source told NZME that police believed neither the Mongols or Mongrel Mob were involved.
Children ran from the house on Ormsby Lane in terror and neighbours heard rapid gunshots before the bodies of Paul Lasslett, 43, who owned the property, and Nick Littlewood, 32, were discovered.
Lasslett, who recently became a grandfather, had relatively minor convictions for cultivating cannabis while Littlewood has links to the Head Hunters gang.
While the brutal deaths of two men understandably shocked neighbours in the rural community, most Tauranga residents simply carried on with their lives.
Most have no dealings with the criminal underworld, therefore no reason to fear.
That all changed when the fall-out from the double homicide spilled into the streets of an upmarket Tauranga suburb and literally brought the city to a standstill.
On Thursday night, police tried to pull over a car on Carmichael Rd, a quiet road in Bethlehem surrounded by retirement villages, million dollar homes, a primary school and a busy shopping centre.
The driver refused to stop, firing a semi-automatic weapon at police, before fleeing at high speed towards the city on State Highway 2.
Police officers gave chase until the driver, believed to be a suspect in the McLaren Falls shootings, stopped near the intersection of SH2 and Fifteenth Ave.
He shot at least 15 rounds before police returned fire and fatally injured him, Superintendent Andy McGregor told the media this morning.
A few hours later, a 25-year-old Bay of Plenty man was arrested in Christchurch in relation to the double homicide . The elite armed police unit, the Special Tactics Group, was involved and police said the man arrested today was an associate of the man shot last night.
The stretch of SH2 - the main route for anyone travelling east towards the city - remained closed on Friday as police gathered evidence, with traffic diverted through neighbouring suburbs and clogging residential streets for hours.
A team of 45 police officers, led by the experienced Detective Inspector Mark Loper, continue to investigate the double homicide.
"I just wanted to reassure the people of Tauranga, the community there, that they are safe," McGregor said. "That we are talking about one motivated offender here, who did not want to be captured by police."
While technically true, all it would take is one stray bullet to kill an innocent bystander.
Just 11 years ago, 17-year-old Halatau Naitoko was tragically shot and killed by police who were trying to stop an armed gunman on a busy Auckland motorway.
The circumstances were eerily similar to last night's shooting.
The gang violence of the last few weeks has heaped more fuel on what is already a heated political debate, with National Party leader - and MP for Tauranga - Simon Bridges comparing it to the turf wars once common in Los Angeles.
Last year, the National Party promised to "crack down" on gangs and blamed the Labour Party for a 26 per cent increase in gang members - now believed to be 6500 - since they took office in 2017.
In response, Police Minister Stuart Nash points out the Government has already "cracked down" on gangs by promising millions of dollars to fund dedicated staff to investigate organised crime and the meth trade.
In what will be a closely fought election, both Labour and National will likely promise to "crack down" harder if voted back into power. It's a proven vote-winner among the middle-classes.
The only winners from the gang wars might be the politicians.