Family take cover as shots fired at police in Morrinsville chase drama
A Waikato police officer found himself staring down the barrel of a military assault rifle at the end of a police chase on Sunday.
Then the gunman started shooting.
The policeman dived for cover on a dark rural Morrinsville road and rang for back-up, which arrived within a minute. Then three officers found themselves being shot at.
The two back-up officers returned fire, but by Sunday afternoon, the gunman was still on the loose, potentially still armed with what's understood to be an AK-47.
None of the officers was injured in the incident. It's unknown if the gunman was.
Two people - a man and woman aged between 25 and 35 - who were in the red Holden Commodore with the gunman are being spoken to by police.
"This is quite frightening. It is an attack of an intensity on a police officer that I have not come across in 40 years of my service," Waikato District Commander Superintendent Bruce Bird said on Sunday afternoon. "I think everybody should be vigilant. We just don't know what the mindset of this offender is."
He said the armed offenders squad is searching for the gunman.
The lone police officer had come across the late-model red Holden speeding down Thames Street in central Morrinsville around midnight, Bird said.
"The police officer gave pursuit for a short distance and the vehicle that was being pursued stopped and engaged with that police officer with a substantial amount of gunfire."
After stopping the red Holden on Kuranui Road a kilometre out of town, the gunman got out the driver's side door and began shooting at the officer.
"The police officer withdrew immediately from the scene and as he did so, came under further fire from the offender."
Within a minute, another police car with two officers arrived and the "attack intensified", Bird said.
"A substantial number of rounds were exchanged between police and the offender."
Around 30 shots were fired, with at least 15 shots piercing the front windscreen of a police car.
Another five bullet holes could be seen in the windscreen of the Holden, which remained on the side of Kuranui Road between Avenue Road South and Scott Road on Sunday morning. A nearby police car's front and rear windscreens were peppered with even more.
One of the other two people in the vehicle was found at the scene and the second was located in Morrinsville early on Sunday.
"We're still making inquiries as to the relationship between them all."
Police need to hear from anyone with connections to the red Holden Commodore with the number plate 1 AZIF 1.
Informants are asked to call police immediately, as it will give them a chance to locate "this dangerous offender as soon as possible".
"Anything you believe may or may not be relevant, we need to hear from you."
It's unknown if the offender is still in the Morrinsville area.
Not long after midnight, a Morrinsville mother woke to gunshots being fired outside her children's window and when she rang police was told to grab her kids from their beds and move to a safer part of the house.
"I was told to stay low and if the kids' bedroom was by the road, we were to go and move them to a room with the least windows," said the woman, who declined to be named.
Armed police and dog handlers searched the woman's property at dawn in the hunt for offender, she said.
The rural road was calm by mid-morning, with the occasional car and weekend cyclist being sent down a side road at the cordon.
The boot of the Holden remained up and inside a white cap and Stirling Sports bag could be seen. A jerry can lay scattered next to the red Holden.
"It was practically right outside from us," the woman said after she had left her house under police guidance early on Sunday.
"We rung it in, unsure of what was happening, and they said on the phone we needed to lock all doors and stay low.
"Not long after that, we had an officer show up on our doorstep letting us know what was happening and what we needed to do."
She said the family, including her four young children, were asleep at their home on Avenue Road when they woke to the gunfire.
Armed police then swarmed the area, blocking off the road as the exchange of gunfire unfolded.
"We had armed police at our gate all night right from the start, so that was good.
"We are OK - a little shaken, but are fine."
At daylight, she packed up her four children and left for a family member's home.
Police had told other residents in the area to turn the lights off, lock the house and not to answer the door.
Craig Burmester said gunfire woke him about quarter past midnight and a second burst came at 12.30am.
"[My wife and I] were up and sort of looking out the window," he said.
At first the pair thought the noise was from fireworks or a fire, so they went outside to look for flames.
The sound was echoing through the trees and river behind his house, making it hard to tell where it was coming from.
"It was decent gunfire. It wasn't just one or two," he said.
He distinguished two different gun sounds and guessed the louder of the two would have fired between five and 10 shots.
At one point, he saw four figures running down the road through the fog and rang police - who told him the people he'd seen were police officers.
He had two calls back from police through the night, including a warning to turn the lights off, lock the house, and not to answer the door.
"It was quite impressive how they rang up and told you just to be wary," he said.
In the dark, he and his wife watched the AOS members search along the river and in a nearby hay barn.
The police Eagle helicopter arrived around 1.30am. It circled the area until about 6am, he said.
Another Kuranui Road resident who did not wish to be named said she was woken by the Eagle helicopter between 4 and 5am.
"We heard the helicopters and the road has been closed. We're probably a couple of kilometres down the road.
"It's a bit weird, but we're OK - they're on to it but it is a bit weird to think it has gone on in town."
Two armed police officers were stationed in Morrinsville's Studholme Street on Sunday morning, but left around 11.40am after a caramel-coloured Ford was towed away.
Residents further up the street didn't know much about why officers were there or about the previous night's car chase. However, one woman said she heard the cars speeding past around midnight - without lights or sirens.
Her partner saw about 10 police cars returning around 8am, she said.
Bird said officers showed extreme bravery in an intense situation, and commended them for their actions.
"I'm sure the communities of New Zealand would take a lot of pride in the bravery shown by our officers as they continue to protect our society from offenders like this, who choose to take fire at officers.
"We'd also like to thank the community who have provided a substantial amount of information."
On Sunday evening, police expected the scene examination of Kuranui Rd to continue into Monday. The road between Avenue Rd and Scott Rd will remain closed until the examination is complete.
Anyone with information can call police on 07 858 6200 or anonymously on Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.