New Zealand Man Behind Bars Over Australian Surfer’s Death

August 17, 2019 Updated: August 17, 2019

A New Zealand man has faced court on murder charges after Australian surfer Sean McKinnon was shot dead while travelling in a campervan with his fiancee.

The family of an Australian surfer shot dead in New Zealand say they “don’t know how to begin to put life together without him” following his alleged killer’s court appearance.

Sean McKinnon, 33, was travelling around the country in a campervan with his Canadian fiancee Bianca Buckley when he was shot dead on Friday morning.

A 23-year-old man was remanded in custody when he fronted Hamilton District Court on Saturday, charged with murder and other offences including aggravated robbery and making threats to kill.

An interim suppression order was placed on his name, at least until his next court appearance on Aug. 27, New Zealand Police confirmed.

He was arrested at a rural Waikato address on Friday, following a tip-off from the public.

Members from the McKinnon family travelled to New Zealand and faced the suspected gunman in court before speaking to the media about their heartbreak.

“The worst thing was telling my mother,” McKinnon’s sister Emmeline told reporters outside court.

“He was very well-loved, he’s a real character and we just don’t know even how to begin to put life together without him.”

The 33-year-old and his fiancee had been sleeping in their van on the renowned North Island surfing town of Raglan when a gunman allegedly ambushed them after 2am on Friday.

Police said the 23-year-old demanded the keys to the campervan before shooting McKinnon.

Buckley managed to escape on foot in the dark to a nearby farm for help while the gunman drove off in the campervan, with McKinnon’s body inside, police alleged.

McKinnon’s body was found in the van, which was abandoned in Hamilton, about 80km away.

“Bianca is amazingly resilient and strong. I cannot even begin to understand what she’s gone through,” McKinnon said of her brother’s fiancee.

“She’s a really strong young woman. We’re just really glad she’s alive.”

Buckley has been “obviously shocked and traumatised”, Detective Inspector Graham Pitkethley said.

“She is thankful that an arrest within a 24-hour period has occurred and we’re working with her and her family, and we’ll continue to be in touch with her around her welfare,” he said.

Police have not been looking for anyone else in relation to the attack.

“The homicide inquiry still continues, and there is work that will still be undertaken in and around the Waikato district as we work through to reconstruct the full events of this tragic event,” he told reporters on Saturday.

McKinnon grew up around Warrnambool in southwest Victoria.

Friend Julian Smith told AAP McKinnon loved to surf big waves along the Victorian coast.

“He was a lovable, knockabout Aussie guy, loved his surfing,” Smith said.

By Gemma Najem and Benita Kolovos