Island standoff ends with gunman dead after police surrounded hilltop house: report video

The image police released of the man they are hunting, Chris Rimamotu.

The image police released of the man they are hunting, Chris Rimamotu.

The gunman who was on the loose in Rarotonga is reportedly dead, according to the Cook Islands News.

Police in the Cook Islands said they have "contained" a standoff with Chris Rimamotu after they surrounded a hilltop house on the south coast of Rarotonga to negotiate. But they have not confirmed his death.

Islanders were told to lock their doors after two people - understood to be New Zealand-born Mary Dean and her boyfriend  - were shot and killed in Rarotonga.

The scene where gubnshots were heard.
TVNZ/1 News Now

The scene where gubnshots were heard.

The newspaper said the standoff was believed to have continued for several hours before his death.

READ MORE: New Zealand family in shock at deaths

A statement said the standoff with Rimamotu was contained. "It is now safe for the community in regards to this matter, however we still urge common sense with securing your homes."

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Earlier today, Cook Islands Inspector John Strickland said police were sending negotiators to talk to Rimamotu, the alleged gunman, inside a private house on a hilltop.

He also confirmed two people had been killed. 

RNZ

Cook Island police are in a standoff with escaped prisoner, Chris Rimamotu, suspected of shooting two people dead yesterday. Reporter Florence Syme-Buchanan is at the scene.

Strickland said such an incident was rare in the Cook Islands. Two friends were sadly killed, he said, but the boy who was reportedly with Rimamotu was safe. The escapee was out of prison on field work when he left, he said.

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Negotiators were sent to the hilltop property, where Rimamotu was believed to be inside, armed, and alone.

"We want to ensure that nobody gets hurt. We will be conducting an in-depth investigation."

Mary Dean died after a shooting in Rarotonga, her family said.
SUPPLIED

Mary Dean died after a shooting in Rarotonga, her family said.

FAMILY IN SHOCK

The New Zealand family of the woman shot dead say they want to bring her young son home safe.

Mary Dean's family in Mary's South Waikato hometown of Tokoroa  said they received news that she and her partner had been shot from an extended family member in Rarotonga about 6pm on Wednesday.

Her two daughters, aged 18 and 21 and a son all from a previous relationship, and a sister were among family gathering at the family home in Tokoroa in shock and anger, family spokesperson Patrick Tavai said.

"Obviously everyone is very traumatised, we are a very close knit family so everybody is just upset.

"There's confusion and a lot of anger and grief. We gathered last night and could only look at each other and get angry."

With no immediate family in the Cook Islands, Tavai said the main concern was to reach Mary's nine-year-old son. 

"Ensuring he is kept safe and brought back to New Zealand, that's the concern. We think he is safe but we're not sure if he is with police - I'm sure police have got him covered as he could be a target as well."

Cook Islands journalist Flo Syme-Buchanan had said the victims were the ex-wife of the alleged offender and her new partner, both of whom were understood to have died as a result of gunshot wounds. 

On Thursday at 8.30am local time (7.30am NZ), she said there were reports of shots being fired and people in the search area around Vaimaanga were told to lock their doors.

"Apparently they have located where he is, the same area that the shootings occurred, and that shots have been fired.

"People are being warned to keep way clear."

'ALWAYS GOING TO BE CAUGHT'

Ian Ibbetson​, 58, owner of Raro Beach Bach in Vaimaanga, said he understood the police had him cornered.

"We heard an ambulance go past a while ago. There's a road block out [nearby] this morning."

Asked whether he was worried, he said: "I dunno, people are a bit concerned last night and social media stuff was wild and nobody knew where he was and people were a little concerned about that.

"Look, I'm sure we'll be fine later on today. I mean, what's the point of taking off? It's a round island, you're always going to be caught sometime, there's nowhere to go."

Earlier, Cook Islands police said they were looking for Chris Rimamotu, the alleged gunman. He was armed and considered dangerous.

"We urge members of the public not to approach this person if located," police said.

Rimamotu had been on the loose with a boy believed to be his nine-year old son, travelling around Rarotonga in a stolen vehicle. Police would not confirm reports the vehicle was a silver ute.

Police did say they had five teams searching various areas on Rarotonga for Rimamotu. An update on Thursday confirmed the boy was safe.

Police concentrated searches around Vaimaanga in the south.

"Police personnel are asking the community to remain alert and to keep your houses locked.

"We need to approach Chris Rimamotu with caution as he still believed to be armed.

"For all the concerned family out there, the boy is confirmed to be safe and arrangements have been made to keep him safe."

PRISON ESCAPEE

Earlier, according to police spokesman Senior Sergeant Maeva Kirikava, police were receiving continuous calls of sightings of the shooter in the town and airport areas, about 15 kilometres from where police believe the victims were shot.

Roadblocks were not set up by police until four hours after the shooting, which occurred in Vaimaanga. The first warning was made by police through Facebook, Syme-Buchanan said.

Rimamotu, 41, was serving a seven-year sentence for the abduction and sexual assault of a six-year old girl.

He escaped from a group of prisoners who were on a community work scheme clearing properties. Overseeing that group were two prison wardens.

Rimamotu was regularly allowed out of prison with other inmates as part of that scheme.

The family of the girl Rimamotu abducted were said to have left their home, as Rimamotu would know their address.

The Cook Island News said up to 30 police were involved in the search. They had been searching around the Titikaveka area, on Rarotonga's south coast. Just before 9pm Tuesday (8pm Wednesday NZT) shots had been reported in Nikao, on the north coast.

A person living in Nikao not far from the prison said the "mood here is a little strange".

In a Facebook message they said: "When the news first came out the message spread fast through txt and on Facebook warning everyone and urging people to pass on the message.

"At the end of the local news broadcast at 8:30pm a police representative spoke about the current situation and were still in pursuit of the assailant. 

"It's quiet, neighbours lights are off and the dogs are quiet which is strange here. 

"On the lockdown atm for the past hour and a half. Pray for us and him too and the two victims."

A person staying near where the shootings took place also posted on Facebook, saying:

"We stay up 30 metres from the crime scene... happened to go down and saw a body on the ground covered."

Local woman Gigi Arikha said the escaped prisoner would be at her father-in-law's house on a daily basis before going to prison.

"We were concerned he might try to go there to hide."

New Zealand Police said they were in contact with Cook Islands officials, but had not yet been asked to help.

A Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesperson said the High Commission in Rarotonga also understood Cook Islands police had not asked for any foreign help.

 - Stuff

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