Police in New Zealand say a suspect has been arrested after an apparently random attack from which a Canadian woman was able to escape but killed her Australian fiancé.
Insp. Graham Pitkethley said the woman is “very shocked and distressed” and that police are providing her with the support she needs after the “tragic incident.”
CBC News has confirmed the couple are Bianca Buckley, 32, who is originally from Halifax, and Sean Mckinnon, 33. Police later confirmed Mckinnon was the man killed.
The couple had been sleeping inside a van at a scenic spot near the coastal town of Raglan when a suspect approached the vehicle just after 3 a.m. local time Friday, according to local police.
Pitkethley says a gunman fired a number of shots into the van, injuring Mckinnon. Buckley managed to escape and run away, and she called police.
Pitkethley described the attack as “random” and said a 23-year-old suspect has been takin into custody.
“She is obviously shocked and traumatized…. She is thankful that an arrest within a 24-hour period has occurred,” Pitkethley said of the Canadian, at a news conference. “We’re working with her and her family, and we’ll continue to be in touch with her around her welfare.”
Barbara Harvey, a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada, said consular officials in Wellington, New Zealand, have offered assistance to the woman.
“Consular officials are in contact with local authorities to gather additional information,” Harvey wrote in an email statement.
Mckinnon was found dead in his van near the village of Gordonton, in the country’s North Island.
Pitkethley said after the initial shooting, the suspect stole the van and drove away with Mckinnon still inside.
The terrain where the vehicle was stolen is “quite rough,” he said, and police are still trying to determine whether Buckley sustained any injuries in her escape.
Police found the vehicle at 8 a.m. about 75 kilometres away. It wasn’t immediately clear if Mckinnon had died from the wounds he received in the initial attack or had been subject to further violence.
Police deployed SWAT-style teams to the scene, and all police in the region began carrying guns as a precaution. New Zealand police typically don’t carry guns on routine patrols, keeping them stored in their cars instead.
A statement from Counties Manukau Health in Auckland said the organization is providing support to one of its staff members, a midwife, who was involved in the “tragic incident.”
Victim ‘a very gentle sort of soul’
According to her Facebook profile, Buckley began work as a midwife in Auckland in January.
Before moving to New Zealand, Buckley was a surfer in Nova Scotia, according to Beth Amiro, president of the Surfing Association of Nova Scotia.
She said the bond between women surfers in the area is especially strong, with most knowing each other by name or by sight, so it was painful to hear about what happened to Buckley and her fiancé.
“It’s really unsettling, and I would hope that if something like that happened to me that I would be able to lean on my surf community. And I just hope that she has the support she needs and the people she needs in her life to get through this,” said Amiro.
Surfer Collette Robertson met Buckley 10 years ago at a surf shop in British Columbia.
“I remembered her because she was a very positive person. You could just tell that she was just someone that you wanted to meet,” said Robertson.
The Sacred Heart School of Halifax, which Buckley attended, posted a statement to its Facebook profile Friday saying the school community was saddened by the news she was involved in a violent incident in New Zealand.
“Bianca thankfully is safe. Our thoughts are with Bianca and her family and of course with the Mckinnon family. The Buckley family very much appreciates the prayers of the SHSH community,” the statement read.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Mckinnon was one of six siblings who grew up in the small farming community of Nirranda, Australia, about 250 kilometres southwest of Melbourne.
His older sister, Emmeline Mckinnon, told the newspaper that the couple met while travelling in South America and shared a passion for surfing and travel. She described her brother as “a very gentle sort of soul with a good sense of humour.
“He was always one to give you a hug and tell you that he loved you,” she told the paper.