Whakatāne woman ran for cover after hearing gunshots in wake of district's gang anxiety

5:48 pm on 15 June 2023
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Police are investigating after shots were fired in Whakatāne on Wednesday. Photo: 123RF

A woman who ran for cover after hearing gunshots in Whakatāne on Wednesday says it was a "surreal" incident.

Police are investigating reports of a number of shots being fired towards a vehicle on Wednesday afternoon. There were no reports of injuries.

Bay of Plenty district commander Superintendent Tim Anderson said the shots were not confirmed to be gang-related and evidence in a car led them to believe it was related to drug dealing.

The incident followed the nehu (burial) of Mongrel Mob Barbarians president Steven Taiatini, in Whakatāne, who police believe was killed when he was run down by a ute in Ōpōtiki last Friday.

Abby from Whakatāne heard the shooting from her nearby car dealership.

"I heard a loud bang, thought it was a vehicle back-firing, then there was another one and I realised it was gunshots coming out of the window of a vehicle on the round about," she said.

"I ran for the dealership, ran inside, and there was about five or six shots total."

She could not believe what had unfolded, she said.

"It's a little bit surreal that anything actually happened, I definitely don't know what sort of category to put that into, it's just idiotic behaviour really."

The town was still on alert today, she said.

"There's definitely some caution being taken. For example, my daughter's rugby game has just been cancelled on Saturday because of it."

The shooting incident came in the wake of anxiety in the district in the lead-up to Taiatini's nehu, as gang members and extra police converged on Ōpōtiki, where he lived.

However, today things had returned to some sense of normality.

Earlier in the week police boosted their presence in the Bay of Plenty town as gang members arrived for Taiatini's tangi.

Today, locals enjoyed the sun at the cafes and went about their usual activities.

Among them were patched members of the Mongrel Mob from various parts of the country, filling their cars at the petrol station and shopping at the local Four Square.

A large number congregated outside the Taiatini household in the morning.

Some residents said they were mostly unfazed by yesterday's events and the remaining gang presence.

"Nah, it hasn't been tenacious, I think it's been pretty quiet," one man said.

"In terms of the gangs, they've been pretty courteous, we've had no drama here at the shop," he said.

Another woman said the town was quite safe.

"Even the gangs themselves have been very well behaved, they haven't been roaming around town, they've just been doing their own thing," she said.

However, many residents critical of the gang's behaviour were fearful that by speaking out, they would be identified by the gangs.

Being such a small town, they said, it would be easy to identify someone's voice and find where they live.

They told RNZ they had become rowdier over the past few months and expected this to continue once the extra 100 police officers left the region.

They added that Ōpōtiki's permanent emergency services were not equipped to match the strong gang presence.

Police had patrolled the area overnight, looking out for what they called, "unlawful behaviour".

They seized three guns and six offensive weapons in Ōpōtiki.

Inspector Tristan Murray, the area commander, said eight gang vehicles had been stopped and searched.

Guns, ammunitions and weapons were found in five vehicles and two people were been charged with a raft of offenses.

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