A woman held hostage at knifepoint in an Auckland mall says she wants the "horrible memories" to stop as she watches her meth-fueled kidnapper apologise before being locked up. Sam Hurley reports.
Held hostage with a blade to her throat, Laura Wheeler feared she would never see her children again as armed police negotiated with her kidnapper in a busy South Auckland mall.
Today she watched as Eddie Tamatea, 31, was sentenced to 23 months' imprisonment after surviving the ordeal at the Westfield Manukau City Shopping Centre on the morning of November 9 last year.
Wheeler was visiting Auckland from Christchurch at the time with her teenage daughter Jess.
They had planned a special day for the 14-year-old's birthday, including a trip to the Rainbow's End theme park and finishing at Taylor Swift's concert at Mt Smart Stadium.
But before riding the roller coaster they stopped at the nearby mall for some food.
Little did Wheeler know she would soon spend 31 minutes of her life in utter terror, surrounded by armed police as a man held an 11cm bowie knife to her in a Burger King.
Eddie Tamatea holds a knife to his hostage's throat at the Manukau mall last year. Photo / Supplied
Today, the 34-year-old Wheeler recalled having her arm suddenly grabbed as Tamatea "pulled me in front of him and put a knife to my neck".
Speaking via video link from Christchurch to the Manukau District Court, she said it "seemed like ages" before police arrived as horrified bystanders and security attempted to reason with Tamatea.
"I was scared and feared for my life."
Police officers, some with guns drawn, arrived and one began negotiating with Tamatea - asking him what he needed and wanted.
Police later praised Wheeler for her bravery as she remained calm throughout the ordeal.
Laura Wheeler and daughter Jess. Photo / Supplied
Wheeler has told the Herald it was her kids she thought of first when faced with the possibility of death.
"There were times when I thought, 'This is not even real, this is not happening', and then times when reality kicked in and I was like: 'What the hell is going on, I'm never going to see my kids again'," she told the Herald after her ordeal.
But Tamatea kept quietly telling her he did not want to hurt her, Wheeler said.
She asked him why he had "picked her", saying she had other children at home, urging the surrounded Tamatea to give himself up.
Tamatea, however, said he feared for his safety if he let her go.
"He knew that he was safe with me," Wheeler told the Herald.
"I told him, 'I will stand beside you until they put the handcuffs on you so they can't shoot you'. So that was when he let me go."
The stand-off with police lasted 31 minutes and came to an end when he dropped the knife and released his hostage.
"I want to stop the horrible memories," Wheeler said today.
However, she felt strongly that Tamatea needs help.
Eddie Tamatea was sentenced to 23 months' imprisonment. Photo / Sam Hurley
Tamatea has long-standing issues with drug use and was coming off a methamphetamine binge at the time he took Wheeler hostage.
After becoming agitated when told the retail area of the mall would not open until 9am, Tamatea moved on to begin verbally harassing a member of the public.
Police were called after a security officer saw Tamatea's knife.
After he was arrested, a doctor observed Tamatea had bloodshot eyes and was talking to himself. He was assessed as being intoxicated with meth, the court heard.
Tamatea has since advised his probation officer that he was remorseful towards Wheeler.
"I'm an idiot, I'm sorry for what I did, I was being stupid," he said.
A pre-sentence report said Tamatea wanted to address his dependency on drugs, while a cultural report writer said his deportation back to New Zealand last year was a significant factor in his offending.
After living in Australia since he was 10, Tamatea struggled to reconnect with his New Zealand family, many of whom, however, supported him in court today.
Tamatea has other convictions in New Zealand for unlawfully being in an enclosed yard and shoplifting but has a significant criminal history in Australia.
He served several prisons stints, the first in 2006 when he was just 18, for crimes including aggravated robbery before being deported.
Despite his promise to get clean, Tamatea's risk of reoffending has been assessed as being medium to high, the court heard.