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New Zealand massacre suspect charged with murder

Village reeling from tragedy of six deaths

February 9, 1997
Web posted at: 9:50 a.m. EST (1450 GMT)

RAURIMU, New Zealand (CNN) -- Stunned residents of the New Zealand hamlet of Raurimu on Sunday struggled to cope with a shotgun massacre that left six people dead and five seriously wounded, shattering their peaceful community.

Stephen Anderson, 24, who was arrested stark naked a few hours after Saturday's slayings, which local residents said began at a family reunion, was charged in court Sunday with the murder of one of the victims, Hendrick Derek Young Van de Wetering.

An unemployed man from Wellington, Anderson showed no emotion as he appeared barefoot and in police overalls in Taumarunui district court, 34 km (21 miles) from Raurimu.

The bearded man with cropped hair was remanded in custody to appear in Hamilton District Court on Wednesday.

A psychiatric report was ordered. No application was made for bail or suppression of his name.

In Raurimu, the horror of the killings had not yet sunk in.

"For this to happen, it's just devastating," said Julie Hurley, who was in the small North Island town near the active volcano Mount Ruapehu at the time of the murders. "It's such a nice, quiet little place."

Families of the dead huddled in a classroom at the tiny local school, too traumatized to face hordes of camera crews and journalists descending on their home in the wake of the carnage.

String of violence

The Raurimu gunman started his rampage Saturday morning at the Raurimu Lodge, used by skiers frequenting Mount Ruapehu's ski slopes during the winter season, police said. New Zealand is now in mid-summer.

Bodies were strewn in a 200-meter (yard) radius as the killer blasted his way from the lodge to the main road, police said.

ski.lodge

From Raurimu Lodge, the gunman moved on to a neighboring property, where he shot Van De Wetering, a respected member of the community.

With the help of helicopters and planes, police tracked him through rugged bush outside the small North Island town of Raurimu near volcanic Mount Ruapehu. There they found Stephen Anderson naked and unarmed, Holloway said.

Residents told CNN the suspect's first victim was his wife. New Zealand Radio quoted local residents as saying that two of the victims were the man's parents. Local residents said he had a history of psychiatric problems. Police, however, would not confirm those reports.

"There are indications that they are not necessarily all family members," Inspector Jeff Holloway told reporters at a news conference Sunday morning.

The proprietor of a nearby motel, who declined to be named, said he understood one of the dead was a young woman who had been walking along the roadside trying to hitch a ride.

"One guy was going to pick her up, then he saw the guy with the shotgun and kept going," the motelier said. "He looked back and saw the woman getting shot to pieces."

One of the first to raise the alarm was Gordon Stewart. He came across a victim who had been shot in the head but had still managed to flee the scene.

"At first it was thought to be hunters out in the nearby bush," Stewart said. "But then a car drove up with a man inside pleading for help. He had been shot in the head."

The victim told Stewart "someone had gone berserk with a shotgun and was shooting at random."

Phil Walter said he stopped to assist at what he thought was an automobile accident.

"We got out to check it, and the shots were firing," Walter said. "So we got back into the car and the man by the car told us to go and get to the police."

Unsure of where the gunman was, people sped away in cars and farm trucks and gathered several kilometers (miles) up the road before police arrived.

The wounded were ferried by helicopters to hospitals in the district. Helicopter pilot Guy Beange said the scene was "like Vietnam," with police and helicopters everywhere.

"It's not the sort of thing you expect to happen in a place like this," one man said. "The locals are all stunned because it's such a quiet place. People come here just for rest and recreation, to get away from things, and for this sort of thing to happen is an absolute tragedy."

Gun laws under review

An inquiry into New Zealand's gun laws is already under way in the wake of the Port Arthur and Dunblane massacres in Australia and Britain last year, but it is not due to report until June.

New Zealand has 11 times as many guns per capita as Britain and 60 percent more than Australia, possibly reflecting a high proportion of people living in the countryside and keeping guns for pest control and game shooting.

Police Minister Jack Elder said he would review the situation.

"We've had the problem for a long time, and we have let it get out of control," he said. "I want to see it (a review) done as quickly as possible like everyone else, but I'd prefer to get it right than rush into something and not get it right."

Reuters contributed to this report.

 
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