WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand police arrested a 23-year-old man and charged him with murder on Saturday, bringing relief to a community that was on edge after an Australian tourist was killed in a seemingly random attack on his van that sparked a large manhunt.
The suspect made his first court appearance Saturday to face the charges of murder, aggravated robbery and threatening to kill. Police arrested him late Friday after heavily armed officers searched for him all day.
Police identified the man who was killed as 33-year-old Sean McKinnon. Several family members traveled from Australia for the court hearing. Sister Emmeline McKinnon told reporters outside the court that the family didn’t know how it was going to put its lives back together.
“We’re just really sorry that he’s gone. He loved being over here, he loved the surf here,” McKinnon said. “He loved the lifestyle and the place. We’re glad he wasn’t too far from home. We’re just going to miss him a lot.”
Police said the incident began just after 3 a.m. on Friday when McKinnon and his 32-year-old Canadian fiancé were asleep in their campervan at a scenic spot near the seaside town of Raglan.
Detective Inspector Graham Pitkethley told media a man approached the couple and fired several shots into the van, injuring McKinnon. His fiancé managed to escape and run away, and called police.
Pitkethley said the suspect then stole the van and drove away with McKinnon still inside. Police found the van at 8 a.m. about 75 kilometers (46 miles) away in the village of Gordonton with McKinnon’s body inside.
Emmeline McKinnon said the family was supporting their brother’s fiancé.
“I cannot even begin to understand what she’s gone through as a person. She’s a really strong young woman,” she said.
Sean McKinnon grew up in the town of Warrnambool, about 250 kilometers (155 miles) southwest of Melbourne, and was a keen musician and surfer.
A Hamilton District Court judge has temporarily suppressed the name of the accused man, a routine practice in the New Zealand judicial system.
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