9 Sep 2015

Gunman told man, 'On your way'

1:37 pm on 9 September 2015

The gunman who was shot dead on Upper Hutt's Main Street spoke to a witness at the McDonald's restaurant where the drama started, telling him to be "on his way".

The scene in central Upper Hutt.

The scene in central Upper Hutt. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Police shot the man dead yesterday afternoon after he fired a high-powered rifle in a McDonald's restaurant and on the street, but witnesses say it took police up to 17 minutes to arrive at the scene.

Local man John Philipson was waiting in McDonald's when he was caught up in the shooting and said the gunman spoke to him after he fired a shot in the restaurant.

Mr Philipson told Morning Report today the first thing he heard was something that sounded like a large cracker going off.

"I thought these damn kids were throwing crackers, and then all of a sudden I look up and I see this guy running around the show with a rifle. My immediate reaction was to try and placate him, but a guy behind me said, 'Hey, this guy means business, let's get out of here', and at that stage everyone was getting up and making for the exit.

Mr Philipson said the gunman came within three arms' lengths of him. He said he seemed agitated and had a glazed look in his eyes.

"At that stage he looked at me and said, 'You're all right, on your way', so we went outside and that's when all the drama started."

'It was so quick'

He said there was no panic when people left the restaurant.

"It was so quick, you didn't have time to react."

Mr Philipson and other customers went across the street to the local mall and saw the rest of the drama unfold from within a Subway outlet. He saw the gunman standing in the street, shouting obscenities and holding his rifle with "a menacing disposition".

Police took 17 minutes to arrive, said Mr Philipson, as the gunman stood in the middle of the street and fired a shot into the McDonalds car park

"I don't know what was happening, but there was a long wait, but we were all thinking crikey, where are the police?

"When the police arrived, and they had the dog and they confronted this guy. Obviously he wasn't responding and they let the dog go and when they did he fired a shot at the dog - and fortunately he missed - and that's when the police shot at him and got him, and then it was all over."

Unanswered questions

Officers administered first aid to the man after they shot him but he died at the scene.

Police said it was not yet known why the man fired shots but that it was a tragedy for all involved, including the man's family and the police.

Upper Hutt Mayor Wayne Guppy said the fatal police shooting in the middle of his city left the community with a number of questions.

"Did someone slip though the system, if it's a mental health issue, or are the gun laws as easy as they may appear? But certainly this guy had a high-powered rifle in a busy CBD and potentially it could have been an absolute tragedy."

Mr Guppy said there could have been multiple deaths and the police averted that.

He said the police were facing a man with a rifle at a busy city intersection with a mall over the road, and they acted quickly to stop what could have been a tragedy with multiple deaths.

Name not yet released

Cordons were still in place in downtown Upper Hutt almost 24 hours after the incident.

Local people have been unable to get to cars and businesses inside the cordon. Christian Haider, who saw the incident unfold from inside a restaurant, said this morning he was still unable to get to his car, which was one of about 40 inside the cordon.

Meanwhile, the union representing workers at the Upper Hutt McDonalds said staff were still shaken by the incident.

Staff involved are being offered counselling and the fast food chain's managing director has flown down from Auckland to offer support at the outlet.

The police are still to release the name of the man who was killed.