Police still have no leads on Mapua arson
'It really affected the community'LAURA BASHAM
In the dark of night, someone unseen broke into Mapua's Touch the Sea aquarium, stole money from the gift shop, then torched the premises, the fire razing the building and destroying the sea creatures in it.
One year on, the arsonist is still out there.
Detective John Nicholls, of Motueka, says that despite investigating 20 suspects, police have no lead.
He would love to solve the crime that has had such a devastating impact on the community.
"In 27 years I have never seen such an outpouring of emotion," he said.
That depth of feeling showed at a special memorial service held near the charred site which attracted more than 350 people, many of them children who loved going to aquarium. About 300 sea creatures perished, with a red-eared slider turtle, now named Phoenix, the only survivor, and he now lives at Natureland.
The fire was lit in the early hours of September 15.
At the time Mr Nicholls thought word would leak out about who was responsible.
"We had a major, major fire. It really affected the community of Mapua.
"We were hopeful we were going to resolve it pretty quickly, people were motivated and we were thinking we are going to find who did it.
"Amazingly we've had very little information."
While the fire was found shortly after it was lit, there were no security cameras or witnesses, he said.
It was discovered by a neighbour, who woke to a fire alarm, thought it sounded like seagulls, but got up to have a look. He wandered across to what was Flax restaurant, did not see anything there but then noticed a flicker and saw the flames, Mr Nicholls said.
"He's from overseas, wasn't sure what number to call 911 or 111 and woke his daughter to check then called.
"By then whoever lit the fire had gone and lit the second fire, a rubbish fire, and is on their way to the third, the tennis pavilion fire.
"Nobody has seen anything. We have no witnesses.
"We had 20 nominated suspects we have worked through and we're still looking at a couple when I get a chance.
"All came to a dead end. We have no lead."
He believes money was stolen from the gift shop and the accelerant was brought to the building.
"Whether there was an intention to light a fire to make a small mess or raze the whole building, we don't know."
He does not believe it was an insurance job, saying the owners were "horrendously underinsured", and that nobody connected with the building has stacked up as a suspect.
The motive remains unknown.
"We've looked at a number of motives from insurance, to somebody p..... off with the council right through to someone annoyed with the gift shop or aquarium or somebody associated. We have looked at a number of angles. Nothing leaps out at us. It's a crazy one."
A $5000 reward offered by a local family as an incentive for information on the arson has not so far brought the hoped-for leads.
"Whoever has done it is still out there. I am confident that sooner or later information will come to us which will allow us to take it further."
He hopes, that one year on, someone will bring him some piece of the jigsaw.
"They can call me, or if they want to talk to me in person or write a letter or make contact with their local police station and ask for information to be passed on.
"I would like to see this solved."
CAN YOU HELP?
Anyone with information about the Mapua arson can call Motueka police ph: 03 528 1220.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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