Police have charged a 23-year-old man with murder as details emerged about the terrifying final moments of Australian tourist Sean McKinnon allegedly shot on a surfing holiday in New Zealand.
The man will front Hamilton District Court on Saturday charged with murder and a number of other offences, New Zealand police say.
It comes as a resident who came to the aid of Mr McKinnon’s distressed fiance revealed details of the alleged attack.
Asleep in a campervan, Mr KcKinnon and his Canadian fiance Bianca Buckley were typical carefree tourists, freedom camping in a remote carpark near Raglan, about 165km south of Auckland.
But the quiet was shattered at about 2am by a man banging on the vehicle and demanding the keys, before allegedly smashing the window, aiming the gun through it and reportedly firing two shots at Mr McKinnon, 33.
The nightmarish attack at Te Toto Gorge, an out-of-the-way big wave surfing mecca in Waikato, sparked an armed manhunt on New Zealand’s north island.
The assailant allegedly hijacked the van with McKinnon’s body in it after forcing the victim’s fiance outside, telling her he did not want to kill her.
About five hours later Mr McKinnon’s body was found in the van, which was abandoned in Hamilton, about 80km away.
A resident who assisted Mr McKinnon’s terrified fiancee, who had run barefoot for help down the remote winding road, described details of the ordeal.
She told the New Zealand Herald the stranger had been erratic when he woke the couple.
“He was erratic, had asked for help,” said the resident who comforted Ms Buckley.
“The partner [McKinnon] said they could help and tried to defuse the situation.
“The assailant guy was looking for the keys, he wanted to get away. He wanted to get back to Hamilton.”
“She had just woken up out of a deep sleep to a commotion. Her partner was half asleep fumbling to try and get the keys.
“Then something happened. Her boyfriend changed his tone. He was less calm and the guy [offender] just seemed to shift in that moment.
“Then he smashed the window with the barrel of the gun and put the gun through the window and shot him twice.”
“She got herself out of the van, got her clothes on and hid.”
Comforting Ms Buckley in the early morning as they waited for police, the resident told the newspaper they talked about the couple’s relationship and plans.
They had met in South Africa on a surfing trip and become engaged in December 2017, announcing their nuptials on Christmas Day.
But an ocean separated the pair, with Sean working as a carpenter in Tasmania and Ms Buckley living in Auckland and working as a midwife.
Whenever they could they would get together and Mr McKinnon had only just arrived in New Zealand for their surfing trip when tragedy struck.
Mr McKinnon’s distraught family, including his mother Rhonda, four sisters and a brother have reportedly flown to New Zealand, with his sister Emmeline telling media they were living their “worst nightmare”.
Emmeline told News Corp the killer had devastated their family.
“You took away someone deeply loved and treasured,” she said.
“He would always tell you he loved you and would give you a hug.”
She said it was a horrible thought to know her brother had been alone when he died.
Tributes have been posted on social media with friends of the lovable, knockabout surfer describing their shock and strangers offering condolences.
“Truly a big loss had great times with you bro way to young will keep the good fight going Bro Mad mackerel for life and yeah my sincerest thought and energy goes to all who knew you,” wrote Leon CeLliers.
Mr McKinnon’s Facebook handle referred to the surfer as ‘Mack dog mackeral’.
New Zealand police said a large team of officers carried out a number of enquiries and were aided by witnesses in tracking down the alleged killer.
“Police have received a number of calls from the public..with information in relation to this investigation and we are grateful for their assistance,” a police statement said.
Detective Inspector Graham Pitkethley described the fatal incident as a “random attack”.
Colin Chung from Colin’s Cafe at nearby Whale Bay said the area provided some of the best surf in New Zealand, but it is off the beaten track for tourists.
Three tourists were shot at while surfing at nearby Te Maika point last year, while a fisherman was also allegedly fired upon in the area.
Mr McKinnon grew up around Warrnambool in southwest Victoria.
Friend Julian Smith said Mr McKinnon loved to surf big waves along the Victorian coast.
“He was a loveable, knockabout Aussie guy, loved his surfing,” Mr Smith said.
“He charged big waves.”
Corangamite shire councillor Simon Illingworth told the Warrnambool Standard he had known Mr McKinnon for years through the local surfing community.
“He’s just an awesome bloke, cruisy, honest, give you the shirt off his back sort of bloke,” he said.
“Seanny Mac was always a legend. He would do somersaults off the Port Campbell pier with the kids. He always had time for everyone.”