Police in New Zealand have charged a 23-year-old man with murder in connection to the death of Australian Sean McKinnon.
McKinnon was travelling with his Canadian fiancé, Bianca Buckley, who is originally from Halifax. She was identified by her parents to Global News who said that the couple was in New Zealand for a surfing trip.
Buckley’s mother said she has spoken to her daughter after the incident. The parents did not want to comment further.
New Zealand police said that Buckley was “shocked and distressed” after McKinnon, 33, was killed in a seemingly random attack early Friday morning.
The suspected gunman was arrested after police carried out a search warrant in rural Waikato, about 170 kilometres south of Auckland. He has also been charged with aggravated robbery and threatens to kill and will soon be appearing in court according to Waikato Police.
Police have not identified the accused.
Insp. Graham Pitkethley said Friday morning that New Zealand police are providing Buckley with the support she needs after what he called a “tragic incident.”
In an email statement to Global News, Global Affairs Canada described the incident as a “violent robbery.” It noted that Canadian consular officials in Wellington have offered assistance and are in contact with local authorities trying to gather information.
McKinnon was found dead in his van near the village of Gordonton on the country’s North Island on Friday morning.
Police said the couple had been sleeping inside the van at a scenic spot near the coastal town of Raglan when a suspect approached the vehicle just after 3 a.m. Friday.
Pitkethley said the suspect fired several shots into the van. Buckley managed to escape and called police.
According to Australian news outlet The Age, Buckley ran away from the scene barefoot down an unpaved road.
“We are still working through injuries she may or may not have obtained during the ordeal. The terrain where the vehicle was stolen is quite rough with a lot of bush around,” Pitkethley added.
WATCH: A Halifax woman and her fiancé were victims of what police are calling a random attack in New Zealand.
The suspect eventually stole the van and drove away with McKinnon still inside.
Police found the vehicle at 8 a.m. about 75 kilometres away from the original location. It wasn’t immediately clear if McKinnon died from the wounds he received in the initial attack or if he had been subject to further violence.
Pitkethley told media the attack involved a “sole offender,” though it was likely he had “confided in members of his community.”
McKinnon’s family told The Herald Sun that they’re devastated by his death. His sister, Emmelline McKinnon, described her brother as a hard-working, talented musician.
He would always tell you he loved you and would give you a hug,” she said.
Buckley’s former school, the Sacred Heart School of Halifax, also posted a note to Facebook paying respect to the couple.
“We are saddened to share the news that SHSH alumna, Bianca Buckley ‘05, was involved in a violent incident yesterday in New Zealand in which her Australian fiancé Sean McKinnon was killed,” it read.
“Bianca thankfully is safe. Our thoughts are with Bianca and her family and of course with the McKinnon family. The Buckley family very much appreciates the prayers of the SHSH community.”
— With files from Global News reporter Sarah Ritchie, the Canadian Press and Reuters