Ashburton gunman appears in court

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IOL pic sep1 EPA new zealand manhunt ends 04378814 EPA New Zealand police are seen in Ashburton during the manhunt for John Tully. Picture: Sarah Robson

Wellington -

A man suspected of killing two unemployment-office workers and seriously wounding a third in a South Island town was charged with murder on Tuesday.

John Tully was arrested on Monday evening following a seven-hour manhunt that kept a town on edge.

Tully made his first court appearance on Tuesday on two charges of murder and one of attempted murder. He did not enter a plea and remained in custody.

Police spokeswoman Lisa-Marie Brooks said a police dog unit apprehended Tully, 48, near a lake shortly after 5pm following an extensive manhunt in the South Island town of Ashburton.

She said Tully was being treated for minor dog-bite injuries and police were still searching for the weapon used in the shootings.

Earlier, police had urged residents to remain inside their homes as they searched an area near the town's river and stormed a house that turned out to be empty.

Tully had been interviewed in recent weeks by the local newspaper about his struggles finding somewhere to live and had also written to lawmakers.

The incident began about 10am when police said a man entered a Work and Income New Zealand office and started shooting.

A witness said the man was wearing a black balaclava and shot at two women, according to the Ashburton Guardian newspaper. Other witnesses told the paper the man was carrying a shotgun that may have been sawed down and fled on a bicycle.

Ministry of Social Development Chief Executive Brendan Boyle said all three victims worked for the agency.

“We are all devastated by the deaths of two of our colleagues in the shocking attack,” Boyle said in a statement, adding “our thoughts and prayers” are also with the third victim who was being treated at an area hospital.

Lawmaker Winston Peters said in a statement that Tully had emailed his political party on August 14 about the difficulty of finding a house to live in.

“We replied immediately and also followed up,” Peters said. “However, the emails kept bouncing back.”

Tully last month told the Ashburton Guardian that he had previously worked in Australian mines, had returned to his hometown and had ended up living in a tent after being unable to secure government-assisted accommodation.

Ashburton Mayor Angus McKay said the town was very community-minded and the tragedy would affect many lives: “It just hits home real hard,” he said, according to The New Zealand Herald newspaper.

Ashburton is home to about 18 000 people and is 90km south-west of Christchurch. - Sapa-AP



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