Oamaru WINZ office closed after Ashburton shooting

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Oamaru Work and Income went into lockdown following the shooting of three people at the Work and Income building in Ashburton yesterday morning.

A security guard who was monitoring the Work and Income office in Oamaru said they were advised by higher authority to place the building in lockdown.

Day one of the South Island Secondary Schoolgirls’ Hockey Tournament in Ashburton, which featured the Waitaki Girls’ High School 1st XI and the St Kevin’s 1st XI and 10 other schools competing for the Jenny McDonald Cup, was abandoned following the incident about 10am yesterday.

Other Work and Income offices throughout Canterbury also closed, including Timaru.

Ministry of Social Development chief executive Brendan Boyle said they were incredibly saddened by what had happened.

“We are all devastated by the deaths of two of our colleagues in the shocking attack at the Ashburton Work and Income office. Our deepest sympathies are with their families, friends and workmates.

“We have security protocols on place at all sites. Obviously we will be looking at what else might be needed in these extreme situations.”

A man reportedly wearing a black balaclava and carrying a shotgun took the time to chain up his bicycle before going into the Ashburton office just after 10am.

Police said two people were killed and a third person was in a serious but stable condition in hospital.

Police named John Henry Tully as a person of interest after the shooting.

Canterbury District Superintendent Gary Knowles said Tully, 48, may have shaved his head as Ashburton went into lockdown while police hunted the gunman.

A “thorough search” was being undertaken at the river, police said, with the Armed Offenders Squad and teams from Christchurch and Ashburton police.

Ashburton Mayor Angus McKay said Ashburton was a very community-minded town and the tragedy would affect many lives.

He became emotional when talking about it: “It just hits home real hard.”

The Education Ministry said it had contacted schools and early childhood centres in the area and they kept the children inside.

Annie Smith of Ashburton’s Childs Play Preschool said said some parents had come to collect their children, including one woman who had been visiting the Winz office at the time of the shooting.

“She came in, and it hadn’t hit her until she came here and she saw Vince, our security man, outside. And then it suddenly hit her how serious it was.

“She said it was like being in a movie, she just didn’t get it. And then she charged out and she just wanted to be with her kids.”

One witness, who didn’t want to be named, said he saw a staff member from Work and Income run from the shop after the shooter yelling “You bastard, you’ve blown her to bits”.

The witness said he stopped his van in the middle of the road when he saw a man in a black balaclava with a shotgun on his back walk into the Winz office.

“It was just surreal. I stopped and got out of the van because I thought ‘that’s not right’ then I heard two shots and I legged it straight to the office.”

The witness said it “all felt like the movies” until police arrived and a cordon was put up.

Abuse and attacks at Work and Income

The Ashburton tragedy yesterday morning is by far the worst of a long series of attacks on Work and Income offices by angry beneficiaries. The roll-call includes:

November 1999: A man went berserk with a wooden club in the Orewa office, smashing six plate-glass windows, a computer and a sign, and sending staff scrambling for cover. No one was hurt. The man faced charges of intentional damage.

January 2001: A 33-year-old man drove a car through the front window of the Flaxmere office and attacked computers and furniture in what was said to be the worst attack on the agency up to that date. He was charged with five offences.

August 2002: A man used a bayonet and a taiaha to smash 20 computers at the Porirua office, telling staff to back away from their desks.

The man, Michael Anstis, who was 28 at the time, was jailed for two and a half years for aggravated robbery and criminal damage.

November 2003: A 47-year-old man pulled a knife on staff at an office in Dixon St, Wellington. He was charged with assaulting a staff member, possession of an offensive weapon and damaging a computer.

February 2005: Two staff in the Hamilton East office were injured by a knife-wielding woman. A female employee was stabbed in the neck and shoulder and another worker was cut while trying to help. This incident prompted a major security review and security guards have since been posted outside all Work and Income offices.

September 2012: 59-year-old invalid beneficiary Sam Kuha smashed two windows at the Kaikohe office with a sledgehammer and went on hunger strike after being told he could not get an emergency food grant unless he saw a budgeter and waited three weeks for an appointment. He ended his hunger strike 30 days later when Social Development Minister Paula Bennett agreed to meet him. He agreed to pay a $480 bill for repairing the window and was convicted and discharged.

By BRAYDEN LINDSAY and NEW ZEALAND HERALD

PHOTO: BRAYDEN LINDSAY – Oamaru’s Work and Income Office yesterday afternoon.