Police have apprehended suspected gunman John Tully following a seven-hour manhunt.
Canterbury District Superintendent Gary Knowles says the man was found on a rural property near Lake Hood and is suffering from dog bites. No shots were fired in his apprehension.
"We'd had two sightings and as a result of that we put a chopper in the air," Supt Knowles says. "We tracked him for some distance. There was a minor resistance and he was bitten by a dog.
"He'll be medically examined because of his dog bites and then he will be formally interviewed and charged."
Supt Knowles said the apprehension was a "huge relief" for the community of Ashburton.
"Nothing will give the families who have lost loves one closure, but I think the community can go to sleep tonight with the thought that the person who we believe may be responsible is in custody."
Officers are still searching for his weapon, which is thought to be a sawn-off shotgun.
Mr Tully recently featured in an Ashburton Guardian story about the homeless. He has a skin condition that affects his joints and has been camping in a tent near the Ashburton River. He has reportedly been without work and without a home for quite some time, and the local newspaper last month reported he had been living in Marlborough, but came home to Ashburton "to die" and be "buried next to my father".
Police rolled out a massive manhunt for the 48-year-old after the shooting, which left two people dead and one seriously injured at a WINZ office on Moore St this morning.
Around 100 personnel were called in for the search, including Armed Offenders Squad units, helicopter crews and dog teams. The operation focused predominantly on the Ashburton River and Lake Hood area, but also raided a state house on Willow St early this afternoon.
Witness: 'It was incredibly loud'
Police began the chase at around 10am this morning when a gunman entered the WINZ office at the corner of Cass and Moore Streets, discharging a firearm and leaving on a pushbike.
Two employees were reportedly killed and a third person is in a serious but stable condition in hospital.
A witness who was in the building at the time of the shooting told the Guardian that a man entered wearing a black balaclava and shot two women, both believed to be staff members.
"It was incredibly loud, I could feel the air whoosh past my head," he said.
The man then left the building.
"He must have broken the gun down because he put it in his backpack," the witness said.
Employees at a nearby electrical business, ElectraServe, saw a man ride into Cass St on a pushbike with a "shotgun of some description".
Another witness told 3 News she called 111 at 9:45am when the man fled the building, and rode east along Moore St.
"He went inside, fired a couple of shots and left on his bike again," she said.
"There was a bystander who tried to challenge the guy… when he was about to leave… it was verbal, it was just a whole lot of yelling."
A staffer at a nearby medical centre, Greg Baker, reported seeing a man in a balaclava riding a mountain bike along Moore St at around 10am.
Beauty salon owner Neroli Davies, whose day spa Body Treats For U is opposite the WINZ office, said there were "a few shaky people about".
"It's certainly very upsetting for a quiet town like Ashburton," she said.
"Just knowing what's happened is bloody real."
Ms Davies has closed the salon for the day, but says staff are staying inside the premises until the offender has been apprehended.
"No one wants to go home."
Ashburton Mayor Angus McKay says the shooting is completely out of character for the town.
"It's the most shocking news I've ever heard in my whole career in local government."
Local MP Jo Goodhew was currently en route to the town, where she knows a number of WINZ staff.
"My heart goes out to everyone that's been involved and I am just horrified to hear about it," she said.
"It is an office that I have quite a bit to do with."
Ministry of Social Development chief executive Brendan Boyle has released a statement expressing his shock at the news.
"The police are handling this serious situation, what I can say is that we will be there for our colleagues to support them as they come to terms with what has happened."
All Ministry of Social Development offices in Ashburton, Timaru and Christchurch have been closed until further notice.
PM 'shocked, disturbed'
Prime Minister John Key has expressed his condolences to those affected by the shooting.
Mr Key was to announce the Government's fiscal policy at a press conference today, but has delayed it, saying it was inappropriate.
"Like all New Zealanders I am shocked and deeply disturbed by what has happened," he said.
Prior to the press conference, Mr Key spoke to Canterbury District Police Commander Superintendent Gary Knowles and said police have some initial thoughts about the motive, but aren't "100 percent sure".
Mr Key says immediately following the incident, all Ministry of Social Development offices in the region were closed as well as local schools.
"My sincere condolences go to the families of those killed and injured. I know police are working extremely hard to bring the person responsible to justice."
Ministry of Social Development and Victim Support are on the scene to talk to staff and those WINZ clients who were in the office at the time of the shooting.
Social Development Minister Paula Bennett will travel to Christchurch this afternoon and will go to Ashburton when it is safe to do so.
"There will be many questions to be asked and answered in the coming days about how this happened. Every day New Zealanders get up and go to work or visit government departments and their families expect them to return home."
Tully reached out to NZ First, among others
The office of New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has responded to claims Mr Tully had reached out to them for help, saying they tried to get in contact but their emails bounced back.
"We were also contacted by an Ashburton reporter who was in contact with Mr Tully. We informed the reporter that our responses were bouncing back.
"[He] wrote about the difficulty of getting a house to live in.
"He said the local member of Parliament had not helped him."
New Zealand First says an email shows Mr Tully also wrote to the offices of the Speaker, Ministers Gerry Brownlee and Paula Bennett, among others.
source: newshub archive