On February 8, 1997 Stephen Lawrence Anderson went on a killing spree in the small North Island town of Raurimu. Six people lost their lives that day and others were wounded as they tried to flee the gunman – a cannibas using shizophrenic. Today marks 20 years since the massacre, and the Weekend looks back on the terror and tragedy.
It was nearly 9am on Saturday February 8, 1997 when Neville and Helen Anderson sat down for breakfast at their family lodge.
Just south of the tiny rural settlement of Raurimu in the central North Island, it was set against a backdrop of lush, green bush and rolling hills.
The Andersons built the lodge, about 30 minutes’ drive from the slopes of Mt Ruapehu, six years earlier as an escape from the city.
They were joined by four couples – Isabel and Anthony McCarty, Raymond and Eve Spencer, Gordon and Andrea Brander, Stephen Hanson and Michelle Churton – and their good mate John Matthews.
Within minutes five of the people sitting at the breakfast table would be dead and the rest running for their lives.
Two years earlier the Andersons’ son Stephen had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. He was under the care of the Capital & Coast District Health Board.
His parents felt he was not well enough to be left home alone in Wellington that particular weekend, so brought him along.
That morning he carried out one of the worst massacres in New Zealand history.
“He just came into the room with quite a stern look on his face, then he said something about having had sex with a cat and dog,” Helen Anderson would later reveal in court.
“I was quite horrified. I got up immediately and suggested he go into the bathroom and have a wash, then go and have some breakfast.”
Anderson walked out of the room, returning two minutes later with a sawn-off single-barreled shotgun.
“What are you doing … Give it to me Stephen,” Neville Anderson shouted at his son, grabbing the barrel of the gun.
Anderson pulled the trigger and killed his father.
Helen and her guests scrambled to get out of the room, out of the lodge, out of the line of fire.
The shots kept coming.
Andrea and John were killed inside the lodge as they tried to flee, and Stephen Hanson was shot dead while he was on the phone to police
The helpless policeman on the other end of the line heard Hanson beg for his life, then the gunshots came, and there was silence.
Outside, the Spencers and the McCartys came under fire.
As he dived into the bushes, Raymond Spencer was shot in the side of the face. He and his wife dropped to the ground, pretending they were dead in a bid to save their own lives.
Isabel was shot in the back and passed out as she collapsed. When she woke to see her husband lay dead beside her.
Michelle Churton was found hours after the massacre, cowering in the bush.
She’d covered herself with foliage so Anderson could not see her, stuffing a T-shirt into her mouth to muffle her terrified whimpers.
From her hiding place she could hear the carnage.
“There appeared to be many shots going off continuously,” she later told the court.
“There was a lot of screaming…”
Anderson had picked off everyone he could from the lodge, but his rampage was far from over.
He headed towards the neighbour’s place, the home of Henk and Helena Van de Wetering.
THE SURVIVOR: Rod Van de Wetering
Rod Van de Wetering would give almost anything to go back to that morning.
In his first full interview since that day he told the Weekend Herald he remains haunted by what unfolded at his parents’ home.
Henk and Helena had lived next door to the Anderson’s lodge for about 15 years, moving from the big smoke of Auckland for an easier lifestyle.
Rod and his wife Kim were visiting with their young children Troy, then 2, and 8-month-old Becky on the weekend of the massacre.
He breaks down several times during our interview, the pain of Raurimu still raw and the loss of his father still devastating.
“There are a lot of moments I would like to go back and do again that day – and do it right,” he say.
“I wouldn’t have given Anderson the opportunity … that was my crime … if I’d shot him, then my father would still be alive.
“I know I did everything I could that day, I know I didn’t do too bad a job because I got my two kids out, and my mum, but in the back of my mind my dad still died because I didn’t kill Stephen Anderson.
“I still feel guilty about that; even though I know I shouldn’t, I still do. You can’t just bury that.”
He remembers every minute of the day, it’s etched into his mind as if it was yesterday.
It was “a nice, quiet morning” and the Van de Wetering family were getting ready to go to Lake Taupo to watch some boat racing.
Henk was on the computer, Helena was making the breakfast, Kim was getting the kids up and dressed for the day and Rod was outside loading up the car.
Suddenly, gunshots pierced the sleepy Saturday morning – a few in quick succession – and though it crossed Rod’s mind that it was inconsiderate to be firing off shots that early in the weekend, he wasn’t too worried.
Then Helen Anderson appeared.
“She came over the fence and I thought that was a bit strange,” Rod recalled.
“She was rather hysterical … she said there’d been some shootings, that some people were dead.”
Rod and Henk rushed up to the Andersons lodge and saw people lying dead, a couple staggering up the driveway, struggling to walk.
“My father went over to help them and told me to go back home and ring the police. That was the last time I saw my father alive …”
Rod raced home, rang the police and told his mother and Helen Anderson to get the kids and get into the car. Meanwhile, Kim ran up the driveway to the main road to help Henk.
“I wanted to get them out of there … then I heard some more shots fired,” he said.
“Mum and Helen were getting in the back of the car with the kids, I was fumbling through the house trying to piece together a rifle.
“I got everyone into the car and I started reversing to turn the car around and head up the driveway. That’s when I saw Anderson come over the fence.”
Anderson, still armed with the sawn-off shotgun, blocked Rod from turning. There was no way he could reverse up the steep driveway to the road, so he drove back towards the house.
“I was hoping I could get the car around the back of the house, but the gate was closed and locked so I did the only thing I could – I hopped out and confronted Anderson as he came down the driveway.
“I was behind the car, using it as a shield. He had his firearm and he wasn’t stopping or slowing down so I went out from behind the car and met him face-to-face.”
Rod had his rifle aimed at Anderson and told him to “back off” several times. Anderson dropped to the ground, surprising Rod, then looked up at him and shot him in the face.
“It was all in slow motion but I was very clear-headed. I couldn’t really see anything out of my right eye but I could see little bits through my left. My first thought was to run, get him to follow me, get him away from my family.”
Rod stumbled towards the bush, scrambled over a fence and ran.
“I looked back and saw Anderson coming … I actually thought I was dying. I was getting really tired, I couldn’t see anything and there was blood all over me. I thought that was it, I thought I was dead and I just wanted to get him away from that car.
“I vaguely remember hearing more shots from behind me … I’m not sure how far he followed me, but at some point he went up the hill to the main road. That’s when he confronted my wife, that’s when he killed my father.”
Kim and Henk had flagged down a logging truck when Anderson “popped out” from behind it.
He shot Henk in the head, aimed at Kim, then seemed to change his mind and fledd.
Meanwhile Rod was still forging through the bush, heading for the top of the Raurimu Spiral, that feat of railway engineering at the top of a hill near the town.
He collapsed there and lay bleeding until police found him. He was rushed to Palmerston North Hospital where he was later reunited with Kim and given the gut-wrenching news of his father’s death.
“It was so surreal. We just didn’t realise what had gone on for a start. We knew something had happened but we didn’t quite fathom how bad it really was,” he said.
Twenty years on from that terrifying day, Rod is still reeling – and angry.
“That day wasn’t as bad as every day that came after,” he says.
“It changed everything … I probably think about it once a day. It does get hard. It’s part of my life now. Unfortunately my life doesn’t sparkle anymore, I don’t get excited about anything, it’s just one day after another.
“But I am not a victim. I don’t like the word victim, I am a survivor … I’ll just keep pushing through.”
THE WITNESS: Kim Van de Wetering
The memories of her father-in-law being shot in front of her, a gunman taking aim at her husband and kids and her being helpless to stop him is something Kim Van de Wetering cannot escape.
The bloody, violent and terrifying images are seared into her mind, they are inescapable even after 20 years.
“I remember every single second, every minute, every detail, every sound, every smell, every fear, every moment, feeling facing evil, feeling not being able to run, feeling watching while your children and husband were being shot at, the feeling as the killer approached and you knew it was over, but somehow it wasn’t,” she said.
“It’s like it was only yesterday, it’s just less fearful now.”
Kim has been racked by survivor’s guilt and often battles with whether she is responsible for Henk’s death in some way, whether she could have done more to change the outcome of that confrontation.
“For a long time it just wasn’t real, it was [like] a movie and any minute someone would wake us up and things would go back to normal,” she says.
“I don’t think about it daily but it has shaped who I am. I lost my innocence on that day. Until then I thought the world was a wonderful place and had the ability to find the good in people without even thinking about the bad.
“Having this false sense of security that you alone control your life is no more … You don’t have any control to protect your family.”
For two years after the massacre Kim was medicated. She needed it “to survive” and to help her raise Becky and Troy.
“My God-given right to bring up my children as a healthy, competent and compassionate young mother – that was taken from me. The overwhelming sense that at any time someone could come into your world and take away your loved ones was at times too much.
“[I thought] what was the point of living? I might as well end it now – that way you get to decide how and when and will be safe from those that can hurt you.”
She saw a therapist for years and fought her way through the pain, learning to cope and trying to regain her sense of ability to protect her family and function normally.
It’s something she still works on – the Raurimu demons still rage within – but Kim has clawed her way back from the pits of despair.
“I guess my life has not turned out the way I thought. I didn’t want to be the person someone else made me to be for a while. But we survived, we kept our family together, we have loving children who respect others and are kind. So I guess we win … that’s the way I see it.
“To this day in public, I never have my back to the opening of a restaurant or door, I always have an escape route. I do this without thinking. Once upon a time I would methodically work it through the scenario where I would have to make a quick escape … but not so much now.”
Kim and Rod left New Zealand after the incident and now live overseas. Helena, who did not want to speak about Raurimu publicly, is also living abroad.
The family remember Henk every day. They talk about him, have made sure Becky and Troy know about their grandfather, a man they believe was a real hero at Raurimu.
They won’t be marking the 20th anniversary though, for them that’s about the killer – not the victims and survivors.
“In my mind that day is his,” Kim said. “I refuse to remember a day for Henk that recognises his death. We remember his life, and by associating Henk with that day he is forever linked to the killer.
“Some people call that day an anniversary. It’s not an anniversary, it’s a horrible, horrible day that belongs to the killer. That’s the way I see it.”
Kim and Rod have forgiven Anderson – to a point. They want to stave off the anger and bitterness that could have destroyed them. But their forgiveness comes with a condition.
Addressing Anderson, Kim say: “I forgive you, but you are not a part of our lives, and will never be again. You cannot hurt us, and you don’t have control over us anymore. But don’t ever come near my family, because the outcome will be a whole lot different.”
Rod adds: “You have to forgive, or it just eats you alive. I do forgive, to a certain point, but what would happen if I ever came face-to-face with him? I don’t know if that forgiveness would work out on the day …”
THE COP: Derek Webb
“What happened this morning?” Detective Derek Webb asked Anderson as they sat in an interview room at the Taurmaranui police station.
“It’s a really long story,” Anderson replied.
“Did you shoot someone?”
“Who did you shoot?”
“I can’t recall their names. Some of them took a few shots eh …”
“Who was the first person you shot?”
“Dog. Hang on, I think the first one I got was my father. He was disguised as dog.”
Two decades have passed since that interview, conducted not long after the head of the local Criminal Investigation Branch jumped from a helicopter to arrest Anderson.
Like many at Raurimu that day, Webb remembers it all, and for the first time since has revealed more details about the arrest, and Anderson’s chilling explaination.
VIEW DEREK WEBB’S FULL VIDEO INTERVIEW HERE:
Webb, now retired, was at home when he got the call that there’d been an incident at Raurimu.
Not long after he was up in a chopper with local pilot Keith McKenzie, scouring the scrub and bush around the Andersons’ lodge as armed police crisscrossed the landscape on foot.
McKenzie spotted a figure darting out of the bush and lowered the chopper so Webb could get a better look.
“We saw that this person was naked. I realised at that stage it was the offender. I could see there was no firearm on him, I signalled to this person, motioned for him to lie on the ground. He looked at me and then he [ran] off, so we followed.
“We got down even lower and I motioned to him again to lie down and this time I pointed my rifle in his direction. When he saw the rifle he fell to the ground, then I jumped out of the helicopter and made sure he was secure. At that time the AOS arrived, the offender was handcuffed and we took him back by helicopter to Taumarunui.”
During the short flight Webb had to comfort an upset Anderson.
“When we picked him up he was emotional. He had a breakdown, he was sobbing, crying hysterically. I basically reassured him that he was not going to be harmed, that he was alright.
“We got back to the station and I interviewed him. At that time we knew that there were people deceased as a result of gunshot wounds and a number of others injured, but their exact location or how many was unknown.”
During the interview Anderson elaborated on his father being “dressed as dog”.
“He said that was God spelt back-to-front. He told me that he shot his father because ‘he was dog’.”
Webb formally arrested Anderson and charged him with one count of murder.
Later that day he took the accused back to the scene, where bodies still lay where they had fallen, and police were searching for evidence.
“We took him back to Raurimu so he could point out to me where the victims were. He pointed out a number of deceased people, and he told me where the shotgun and his clothing was and they were duly recovered,” Webb recalls.
“It was heartbreaking to witness the damage, and later on, hearing how some of the people at that lodge begged for their lives.”
Here, Webb chokes up. Tears fill his eyes and he takes a break to regain his composure.
He spent more than 30 years as a detective, 17 of those in the AOS and 12 in the ATS.
He’s seen terrible things and Raurimu still affects him – he thinks about the survivors and the families often – what they witnessed that day, what they lost.
“You just try to push it away. But it’s always comforting to know that there were survivors. I often wonder how they are getting on, how they are going in their lives.”
THE NEIGHBOUR: Colin Parker
In a quiet corner of Raurimu, in the grounds of what used to be the village school, stand six golden totara trees.
Drenched in sunlight, their leaves glow and move gently in the summer breeze.
The trees stand tall and side-by-side, surrounded by a protective picket fence. A gleaming plaque is affixed to a moss-covered rock in the middle.
“These trees were planted in memory of the six who lost their lives in the Raurimu shooting, February 8 1997,” the plaque reads.
The memorial is simple but poignant and it’s a place where Colin Parker finds comfort.
Henk Van de Wetering was his mate, his neighbour and 20 years ago he watched the man die on the side of SH4, right at the top of their driveways.
Parker was down in the village when Anderson’s rampage happened. He drove up the hill just after Henk was shot.
VIEW COLIN PARKER’S FULL VIDEO INTERVIEW HERE:
“As I came up the road I noticed Henk was lying on the road and nobody seemed to be helping him. Initially I thought he had been hit by a car,” he said, his memory still crystal clear.
“I walked up to Henk, there was a Hall’s truck going up the hill slowly and as it passed I saw Anderson right there on the road.
“I didn’t think much of that, but then he just hopped off into the bush and disappeared. I got to Henk and tried to see if I could help him. But it was too late … I realised something was horribly wrong.”
Henk was alive, but barely.
“He died in my arms …” Parker said, tears welling in his bright blue eyes as he recalled his mate’s last moments.
Off-duty doctor Paul Dawson happened to pass by and pulled over to help Parker.
“I was just sitting there thinking … could I have done something differently? But the doctor explained the injury Henk had suffered was a big one. Even if it had happened right outside a hospital, he couldn’t have been saved.”
Another local then arrived at the scene. Alan Henderson had been alerted that something was amiss up the hill and headed there to see if he could help. He had no idea what he was about to walk into.
Alan’s daughter was married to another of Henk’s sons, so when he arrived he got a hell of a shock.
“I drove up and saw Colin standing on the side of the road and saw someone lying there. I got out of the car and saw Henk lying there, blood pouring out of his head.
“Colin said to me ‘you can’t see this … I knew Henk wasn’t going to survive. I had my 14-year-old son with me at the time so I left. We didn’t really know what was going on.”
Parker stayed put, along with the doctor and his wife and several others who had pulled over. They huddled behind cars, terrified the gunman would come back for them, not knowing what had happened or when the ordeal would end.
It would be about 90 minutes before police opened up the road and freed them from their roadside prison.
“We were just waiting on the side of the road with Henk with helicopters flying around above us trying to find who this guy was who’d done this,” Parker said.
These days, his mind often returns to what happened that day, and he still struggles to comprehend the how and why.
“It was pretty heartbreaking … I’ve tried to put it aside, it’s filed in my mind. You never, ever think that’s going to happen. I think it’s an incredibly sad part of our history.
“On the anniversary I’ll be having a wee think about it, especially about Henk. He was a really nice guy.”
THE SISTER: Christina Tyson
Christina Tyson wonders what her brother John Matthews would be doing today, if he hadn’t been killed by Anderson at Raurimu 20 years ago.
He might have been married, may have had children and he would have been a fantastic uncle, she reckons. But he was robbed of all of that the day Anderson gunned him down on the porch of the family lodge.
Matthews had never met the Andersons until that fateful weekend.
His best mate Stephen Hanson’s partner worked with Helen Anderson and she’d invited the couple to Raurimu lodge for the weekend.
Hanson extended the invitation to his mate, Matthews, and the Wellington trio headed north for a relaxing weekend.
“John was just in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Tyson tells the Weekend Herald.
Even though 20 years have passed, she is still racked by “grief spasms”.
“They can grab you at any time, odd times, not just on birthdays and at Christmas.
“Every time there is a mental-health-related death, even the Melbourne incident last month, you just revisit it and feel it again. You have a heightened degree of empathy and pain for the other families too.”
Matthews’ family forgive Anderson, and hold no ill-feelings or bitterness towards his mother.
“It was probably easier for us because we didn’t know the Andersons. We were just trying to understand the ‘why’ of it,” Tyson says.
“We always accepted that Stephen Anderson was unwell and that the world for him was nothing like the world is for the rest of us beccause of his illness.
“His parents were probably at the end of their tether and trying very hard to know how to manage him… our family don’t blame his parents, we feel like they did the best they could do.”
Matthews’ family don’t mark the anniversary – they remember him every day.
“We always remember John in our own ways… we remember him with a smile,” Tyson says.
“But (Raurimu) does play on your mind. I always worry about family members, I realise that people might die, those sorts of things stay with you.
“We naturally regret that John didn’t get to enjoy a longer life, that he didn’t get to see his nephews and nieces… We were robbed of him.”
THE KILLER: Stephen Anderson
Following his trial in December 1997 Anderson was detained in a forensic mental health facility as a special patient, meaning his release could only be signed off by the Health Minister.
The next anyone would hear of the killer was in 2008 when the Herald on Sunday revealed Anderson had been given regular, unsupervised leave from the facility and had spent Christmas with relatives at their home.
It was, according to his aunt Toni Curley, part of Anderson’s “ongoing rehabilitation”.
In 2009 Anderson was released to live in Upper Hutt. He remained a special patient and was still under the care and monitoring of the facility – however he was able to live in the community again.
During his release he published a book of poetry entitled Toys in the Attic – but his freedom was cut short soon after that when he was allegedly caught using synthetic cannabis and authorities recalled him to the mental health facility.
It emerged in 2014 that Anderson was back out in the community part-time, and allowed to visit his mother’s Waikanae home for specified periods.
He was working as a tutor at Wellington’s Inverlochy Art School, where he was described as a “talented” artist.
At the same time he was creating jewellery, some of which featured bullet casings, which was being sold on auction website TradeMe.
Managers at Inverlochy had no idea about Anderson’s past, and once the events of 1997 were brought to their attention, the tutor’s job was nso more.
The Ministry of Health confirmed this week that Anderson, while living as part of the community, is still a special patient “and is managed and monitored as such”.
No further information could be given about his treatment or management.
The Weekend Herald requested an interview with Stephen Anderson and his mother Helen.
They declined but Helen provided a short statement by email.
“Anniversaries of tragic events are distressing for those involved, including Steve and I,” she said.
“We wish for privacy at this time and seek to make no further comment.”
THE AFTERMATH: Raurimu in the courts
Two years before the shootings, police had expressed concern about Anderson’s access to guns, revoking his firearms licence after he was arrested for disorderly behaviour and even trying to revoke his father’s licence.
Neville responded to those concerns by sending a “definitive statement” to police assuring that he would not allow his son access to any firearms.
Anderson had no problem getting his hands on a gun. The sawn-off shotgun was usually kept in an old violin case, and three days before the massacre Helen found her son sitting in his bedroom cleaning it.
She would later testify that she confronted Anderson, but took no action.
“What are you doing with the gun Steve?” she asked him.
“They’re coming after me,” he replied.
“Don’t be silly, there’s nobody coming after you,” Helen told him.
Seventy two hours later it was Anderson coming after everyone in that house.
“I heard them talking about me, that’s why I went blazing,” he would later tell police.
He was charged with six counts of murder, eight of attempted murder and one of unlawful possession of a firearm.
In December 1997 a jury found him not guilty on all charges. They deemed him insane, not criminally culpable, not legally responsible for killing six people and trying to slay another eight.
Many of the survivors and their families remain furious about the verdict to this day.
“The verdict didn’t finish the story for us, it didn’t close the book,” Rod Van de Wetering tells the Weekend Herald from his overseas home.
“There was no justice. He should have been found guilty, but by reason of insanity. It’s not a lot to ask for, but for so many people that would have meant closure.”
“He was not guilty for all the killings – this to me was so incomprehensible,” his wife adds.
“Hearing the word ‘guilty’ could have made a lot of difference to coping with such an awful day, an awful crime. We never got that.”
In April 1999, after an inquest into the shootings, Coroner Tim Scott found the massacre would never have occurred had the shotgun at the lodge been locked away.
A Herald report at the time stated Scott “laid the blame for the killings on the shoulders of Anderson’s father Neville, the first of the six victims”.
“He was a man familiar with firearms, but his attitude to storage was casual and careless. That attitude cost him and five others their lives. If there is one single fact that has given rise to this tragedy, it was that carelessness.”
Scott did not place any blame on Anderson’s mother for failing to act when she found him with the gun days earlier. He said Helen was “overwhelmed” by her son’s bizarre behaviour and “could not recognise how ill he had become”.
It’s worth noting that in in late 1997 Anderson wrote to his mother with the same sentiment.
“You did all that you could. You were not provided with the information you needed. Mum, the system gave you a bow and arrow to take on lightning,” the killer wrote.
The Coroner also criticised the Capital & Coast DHB for their “reactive” treatment of Anderson and lack of appropriate systems around mental health patients.
After the trial, Helena Van de Wetering, Isabel McCarty and Gordon Brander filed a $2.6 million lawsuit against the DHB, claiming they failed to adequately monitor or treat
Anderson’s deteriorating mental health. In June 2000 the High Court at Wellington dismissed their case.
McCarty doesn’t want want to dwell on Raurimu or dredge up the pain and memories, but does want to make one thing clear.
“I blame his mother,” she announces, firmly and with conviction.
McCarty recalls that she and Anthony only went to the lodge because they were worried about Neville Anderson’s health and wanted to be supportive. Had they known other people were invited they wouldn’t have gone.
“The first thing she said when we got there, and I will never forget it, was ‘sorry we’ve had to bring Stephen’,” she recalls, still with some disbelief.
“He was too sick to have been left at home on his own so he had to go with them. If he was too sick to be at home, he was too sick to have a gun.
“That whole weekend was just a nightmare. I blame Helen and I don’t care if she knows.”
She has a clear vision of Anderson in the lodge shortly before the shooting, which she shares with the Weekend Herald.
“He just kind of stood there looking at each person, concentrating on one person and then his eyes would go to the next.
“I remember, I found myself getting more and more scared because of the look on his face.
“It’s hard to get that weekend out of your mind – you don’t run off with someone chasing you with a gun every day. It was a real shock to the system.”
As McCarty lay unconscious in her hospital bed after being shot in the back, her family was told that if she lived – and that was a big if – she would likely never walk again.
She defeated every odd though, and lives her life with a smile.
“I feel fortunate in that sense,” she says.
If you need help, or you are concerned about the mental health of a family member, friend or anyone else, please reach out for help.
•Lifeline – 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland
•Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
•Healthline – 0800 611 116
•Samaritans – 0800 726 666
For more information visit the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand.