1 Jul 2016

Families reunited as manhunt continues

5:54 am on 1 July 2016

All children caught in a lockdown in Palmerston North today have been reunited with their parents, as armed police search for a man on the run.

Police car at a check point in Mana, Wellington.

Police cars have been stationed at points around Cloverlea (not pictured). Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

The man police are looking for is Caleb Kovaleski, 25, described as a European male, thin to medium build and approximately 178cm tall.

Mr Kovaleski, who has warrants for his arrest, fled police in a grey Mazda, triggering an Armed Offenders Squad callout about 10.45am.

A local dairy owner said police had told him they were looking for a man with a gun.

Cloverlea Kindergarten, Cloverlea School and Somerset Crescent School were placed in lockdown, though the latter school later allowed children to be picked up.

Ruahine Kindergartens general manager Alison Rudzki said 30 children, four teachers and one parent had been unable to leave Cloverlea Kindergarten.

She told Checkpoint with John Campbell she received a call about 5pm saying police planned to get the children from the kindergarten out, followed by children from Cloverlea School, and take them in a bus to the Highbury Whanau Centre.

All of the children have since arrived at the whanau centre.

The centre's administrator, Sandra Carroll, said it was some of the children's first day at school and kindergarten and some of the five and six-year-olds were quite upset by the experience.

As the wanted man was still on the loose, officers had assessed the risk with each trip the bus made, she said.

There were hundreds of people at the centre as children were reunited with their parents.

"The car park is full, the whole street is full, we've got people ringing up to say cars are parked over driveways, we've got people ringing up to see if other people are here because people in the cordoned area can't get out to get to their kids and if they do they can't get back into the area," Ms Carroll said.

Cordons and road blocks were still in place, a police media spokesperson said.

Cloverlea, Palmerston North (highlighted in red).


Ms Rudzki said during the lockdown that it had been a stressful time for teachers as well.

"They're trying to make out that everything is normal and clearly the day is progressing. These are just little children, three to five-year-olds.

"Some of them will be getting tired, and I imagine that they're starting to ask questions about where mum or their caregiver is. So it's a very stressful time for the parents as well."

'Man with a gun'

Harish Bahya, who runs the Herbert Avenue Dairy, said he was visited by police about 11am, and they told him they were looking for a man with a gun.

With all the surrounding streets cordoned off, many people were stuck where they were, he said.

Several people came into the shop to keep warm while they waited, including parents with children at Cloverlea School and Cloverlea Kindergarten.

Police arrived at his shop just before 6pm to take people to the community centre, which was just outside the cordon.

With no customers, he himself was shutting up shop two hours early to go to his home, which was inside the cordon.

Other residents affected

Local Pastor Alan Frost, who lives on Herbert Avenue, said residents could leave the area, but they were not being allowed back in.

The areas around Benmore Avenue, Gillespies Line and Leslie Avenue were all affected by the lockdown, he said.

A helicopter had been hovering overhead since mid-morning and police cars were stationed at points around the neighbourhood.

Details from the police about the operation had been very sketchy, Mr Frost said.

Somerset Crescent School allowed children to leave earlier this afternoon, as long as they were collected by their parents, a school spokesperson said.

The Armed Offenders Squad had been helping with the search.