Police inaction after boy shot 'does look racist', Patutahi locals say

Kim Tupara, 27, has lived in Patutahi all of her life. It's a tiny settlement just outside Gisborne and where she and her partner Billy Koia have chosen to raise their young family, including their eldest son, Khan.

"I wanted my kids to grow up rural and how we did and playing around with your cousins all the time."

Surrounded by their animals, Kim and Billy enjoy the simplicity of life here. But that feeling of security she and her young whanau have enjoyed was shattered one evening in March.

Eight-year-old Khan was on his quad bike down the road from his home, when he came running home after around 10 minutes with a burning pain and blood running down his right arm

"I first I sort of grabbed a towel and wiped up his arm and then I noticed that it was a perfect circle, and it was raised and all the inside was minced. I sort of looked at Billy and said we both knew like it looks like he's been shot," she says.

 Their worst fears were confirmed - an X-ray revealed a pellet from an air rifle, like a slug gun, was lodged deep in Khan's forearm. The boy was lucky he escaped any permanent damage.

"It had missed two of his main muscles, just missed his main nerve and artery. He would've lost all use of his arm, he's a lucky, lucky boy to still be here," Kim said.

An X-ray showing the pellet.
An X-ray showing the pellet. Photo credit: The Hui

 "When Kim sent me the x-ray, it was shocking. It could have killed Khan if it hit him in the right spot, seriously injured him," Billy said.

The shooting happened on their road in front of a neighbour's property.  A power pole directly across from that house is peppered with gunshots, and is close to where Khan was injured. 

Billy and Kim allege the gunman lives at that address, and it's not the first time he's shot at passers-by. In 2016 a whanau travelling in a car along the same stretch of road were also one of his targets - the bullets smashing a window and hitting their baby's car seat.

"I think it's too much of a coincidence to not be the same person. It's the same corner, the same area," Kim adds.

"We never once heard from police, they didn't notify us about it and then once Khan was shot, the locals that it happened to reached out to us and sent us through what happened and I was shocked. The pellet was in their baby's car seat".

 With that in mind,  while Kim and Khan were in hospital, Billy went to confront the man who lives at the property.

"Words were exchanged and I assaulted him. I have got no violence charges to my name, I don't go around beating people up," he said.

"I was definitely trying to protect my family, definitely trying to protect my son".

Billy has more reason than most to be protective of his family, especially when it comes to guns. In 2006, when Billy was 16, his father shot his mother in a murder-suicide.

"When the firearm was involved and what happened previously to my parents, it definitely brought up a bit of emotion and anger. It was like it was happening again, and it could have been fatal and killed Khan, just over someone being reckless," the 30-year-old said.

Khan. Photo credit: The Hui

Billy now faces a serious charge of assault after a complaint was made to police two months after the altercation.

He's pleaded guilty to the charge of injuring with reckless disregard, which comes with up to five years imprisonment - but he and Kim can't understand why the person who shot their son still hasn't been held to account.

"I want to know why somethings not done. A child has been shot, a gun is a gun," he said.

"The police just keep telling us that we need to trust them," added Kim. 

But their trust and patience is running out. Khan's whanau say it took days before the property was searched, police coming up empty-handed. 

"The shooting happened on Tuesday, the search was Friday afternoon, that's plenty of time to get rid of a gun," said Kim.

The police handling of the case has raised many questions for this community. Despite the serious nature of what happened, the immediate response from police was unorthodox. The area where the shooting occurred wasn't cordoned off, there was nothing on police websites and neighbours in the vicinity were not notified.  

"We weren't told that day. We weren't told that night, we weren't even told the next day. We weren't told at all," said Kim and Billy's neighbour, Fats Karauria.

Since the shooting in March, his tamariki are too scared to play down their road.  As a father he's frustrated that he can't guarantee his children's safety.

 "They've always got that doubt of coming out the front now. We've never had to feel that way," Fats added.

 Now Fats and the Patutahi community are demanding answers. In July, Kim organised a town meeting with local police.

"People are asking me stuff and I can't give them answers. I'm not getting answers myself. I wanted to give them the opportunity to ask questions to the police themselves," Kim says. 

 Local Manutuke Const Tim Winchester fronted up to locals who are furious that no one has been charged.

 "With this one it does, it looks like low priority. But it was a shooting, and it was shooting of a mokopuna, that's what gets all of us," said Patutahi local, Drina Hawea.

 She said the way police have treated this case is completely different to other recent events involving guns.

 "We've seen a shooting not long after Khan's incident here in town and I'm telling you within minutes a whole block got closed down, and yet when I look at it, a nine-year-old boy shot and nothing happened," Drina added.

"If it was Pakeha I think it would've been managed differently, but because its two young Māori people, I know people hate it when you say it, but it does look racist."

The town is united in demanding justice for Khan and his whanau. They want to see the man they believe is behind the shooting, removed from Patutahi.

"At least you can tell your kids he doesn't live here anymore, it's safe to start walking our dog back up the road, it's safe to take them for bike rides back up to the corner and stuff you know," Fats said.

Five months on Khan's wounds have healed, but he still bears the scars of the shooting on the inside.

"I have seen a change in Khan. He suffers from night terrors, it's not good to see. At home is the place he should feel safe, and his backyard and his community," says a tearful Billy.

Kim has a trespass order against her neighbours, but she says that's not enough. Unless the police act soon, she and her whanau are considering leaving their beloved home for good.

"I think if nothing has been done, what option do we have? We're going to have to always look over our shoulder and be constantly worried are we going to get shot? Why should we have to leave the place that our kids have been brought up in, they think is home because nothing's been done."

The Hui