21 Oct 2016

'We heard a bang, bang, crack'

11:58 am on 21 October 2016

Florence Syme-Buchanan

The gunman who carried out a fatal double shooting in Rarotonga calmly fired shot after shot at a victim at point blank range, witnesses say.

Mary Dean and her partner Roger Tauarea were killed by escaped prisoner Chris Rimamotu - the former partner of Ms Dean - who was serving a seven-year sentence for kidnapping and sexually assaulting a young girl.

Chris Rimamotu.

Chris Rimamotu. Photo: Cook Islands Police Service / Facebook

Rimamotu died yesterday morning from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, after a stand-off with the police.

Sources said he was able to access a shipping container he had on his inland property after being taken there by a prison warden, who remained in the vehicle, to pick up some tools.

After getting his firearm, Rimamotu escaped, going over a stream and into inland bush, only to return and fatally attack Ms Dean and shoot Roger Tauarea, who later died from multiple gunshot wounds in Rarotonga Hospital.

James McPhail and Tiriamate Ruatapu, who had known Tauarea for several years, were in the house next door to the two victims.

Mr Ruatapu said at about 4pm on Wednesday, they heard a "bang, bang, crack".

"All of a sudden [Tauarea] ran through the hedge separating the two properties and ran right past us yelling, 'He's shot me,' and was pointing to his stomach."

Mr Ruatapu and Mr McPhail, fearing for their own safety, ran into their house and locked themselves in. From the kitchen, Mr Ruatapu could see Rimamotu walking past armed with a rifle.

"Then there were more shots and Roger yelling out again, 'Uncle, uncle, help me.'"

Mr McPhail said they could see Rimamotu shooting Tauarea at point blank range, but could not quite make out the victim who was on the ground and obscured by vegetation.

"We could see his arm flailing, we think he was on his side."

Rimamotu then walked away "very calmly, he looked very cool and collected," Mr McPhail said.

The Rarotonga home of Chris Rimamotu, an escaped prisoner who killed himself following a standoff with police after he had murdered a couple who lived two houses away.

The Rarotonga home of Chris Rimamotu, an escaped prisoner who killed himself following a standoff with police after he had murdered a couple who lived two houses away. Photo: Supplied

Mr Ruatapu immediately went to help Tauarea.

"He was just lying there twitching around and I told him that I'd called the emergency number and someone was being dispatched to help him," he said.

"The whole time I just held his hand and talked to him to keep him connected."

After emergency services took too long to show up, the pair started driving Tauarea to hospital themselves, flagging down an ambulance on the way.

"He was grabbing my hand quite firmly and didn't want to let go, I told him he was in good hands - we really thought he might pull through," Mr Ruatapu said.

Mr McPhail and Mr Ruatapu estimated Rimamotu fired between 12 and 20 shots.

They were extremely distressed, Mr Ruatapu said.

"It is unbelievable really, it [had been] so peaceful and beautiful in the garden."

Family calls for full investigation

The family of Mary Dean have called for the circumstances surrounding her death to be investigated.

A family spokesperson said they believed Ms Dean's violent death, along with Tauarea's, could have been prevented had the Cook Islands Prison Authorities followed their own rules and regulations.

They want to know why a high-risk prisoner was permitted out on the community work scheme and why a prison warden was delivering him to a shipping container.

Ms Dean's family was distraught, her cousin Tapairu Tuakeu-Skinner said.

"She was so happy in her new relationship, she loved her children, Jayleb, Alia, Linga and Ian, she loved life and she was so much loved by us all."

Ms Tuakeu-Skinner said the family had known Rimamotu kept guns in a shipping container he had a short distance inland from his home.

She had tried to warn Ms Dean, 47, several times that Rimamotu was dangerous, she said.

"She just always said they'd be fine - she never took the warnings seriously enough."

Ms Dean had told Rimamotu their relationship was over during a prison visit early this year, Ms Tuakeu-Skinner said.

"She wanted to move on with her life and she and Roger [Tauarea] were building a good life for themselves."

Tauarea himself had previously spent 14 years in jail for the rape and murder of a four year old.

Justice Minister praises police response

The Cook Islands' Justice Minister, Nandi Glassie, has praised the police, despite criticism they were too slow to tell the public a gunman was on the loose.

"I am pleased that all our local authorities conducted themselves with a high degree of professionalism and integrity, to uphold the safety and security of the public at all times while in a high risk situation," said Mr Glassie.

The double shooting was the first of its kind in the Cook Islands.

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