New Zealand police arrest manhunt suspect after two shot dead and a third left critically injured

Suspect tracked down in rural property in town of Ashburton, on South Island, after more than seven-hour search by armed police following shotgun attack at unemployment office.

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 September, 2014, 3:06pm
UPDATED : Monday, 01 September, 2014, 3:07pm

Police in New Zealand arrested the man at the centre of a manhunt today more than seven hours after two people were shot dead and a third left critically injured at an unemployment office.

The suspect, identified as John Tully, 48, who was a homeless man, was detained at a rural property near Lake Hood, in the town of Ashburton on South Island, The New Zealand Herald reported.

The suspect had been tracked down by armed police using search dogs after a manhunt lasting more than seven hours, it said.

No shots had been fired at the time of the arrest, but the suspect had suffered “minor” dog bites when he was detained, Canterbury District Commander Superintendent Gary Knowles was reported as saying.

Police said the shooting incident began about 10am when a man with a shotgun had entered Ashburton’s Work and Income New Zealand office and started shooting.

The man, reportedly wearing camouflage clothing and wearing a black balaclava, had fired at three members of staff, killing two of them, the newspaper reported.

A third member of staff, who was left seriously injured, was flown to Christchurch Hospital and was said to be in a “critical” condition.

Ministry of Social Development Chief Executive Brendan Boyle said all three victims worked for the agency, but he refused to identify them.

“We are all devastated by the deaths of two of our colleagues in the shocking attack,” Boyle said in a statement. He added that that “our thoughts and prayers” were also with the third victim.

Residents in Ashburton, which has a population of about 18,000, and lies 90km southwest of Christchurch, had been warned to remain indoors during the manhunt.

At the start of the manhunt armed police had scoured an area around the town’s river and thrown stun grenades while storming one house, but had failed to find the gunman.

Tully had been interviewed in recent weeks by the local Ashburton Guardian newspaper about his struggles to find somewhere to live and had also written to lawmakers, Associated Press reported.

He had told the newspaper he had previously worked in Australian mines. After being placed on a disability benefit he had returned to his hometown, but was living in a tent after being unable to secure government-assisted accommodation.

Lawmaker Winston Peters said in a statement that Tully had emailed his political party on August 14 about the difficulty of finding a house to live in.

“We replied immediately and also followed up,” Peters said. “However, the emails kept bouncing back.”

Peters said Tully’s email showed he had also written to other lawmakers.

Ashburton Mayor Angus McKay said the town was very community-minded and the tragedy would affect many lives.

“It just hits home real hard,” he said, the Herald reported.

Additional reporting The New Zealand Herald