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Real Life

The terrifying moment an Auckland mum was taken hostage in front of her daughter

It was supposed to be a happy day, celebrating her daughter's 14th birthday. Instead, the teen was forced to watch on in horror as a man held her mother at knifepoint.

By Wendyl Nissen
Laura Wheeler can't stand people approaching her from behind. It leaves her nerves frazzled – an emotional scar she bears after being held at knifepoint in an Auckland mall last year.
The Christchurch mum had been expecting to spend the day spoiling daughter Jessica, who was turning 14, by having breakfast at Burger King, then heading out to Rainbow's End and – the best part of the day – going to the Taylor Swift concert.
But instead, the teenager sat horrified as a random man took her mother hostage.
Australian deportee Eddie Tamatea, 31 – who is now serving 23 months behind bars – had come up behind the unsuspecting Laura, grabbed her and held a 12cm knife to her throat.
"You think these things can never happen to you, but it's brought a reality that it can and to be a bit more careful," reflects Laura, 34. "I'm definitely more aware of people in general, particularly anyone who's behind me. I've had a few instances when someone's come up behind me and it's really scared me."
Looking back at that awful day last November, Laura tells Woman's Day she can recall every detail.
"He was really agitated and at the time I thought he probably needed some help, like maybe he had some mental health issues, so I was just trying to keep calm and work out what he needed," says Laura.
After 20 minutes, police arrived and took a terrified Jessica outside to the safety of a police car.
Inside the Westfield Manukau mall, Laura tried to take stock of what was happening to her. She knew the man was wearing a maroon-coloured jersey, but that was all.
The devoted mum-of-six, including four foster children, says she could feel her captor tense every time something agitated him, so she tried hard to keep him calm.
"It got to the point where, because there were so many police, helicopters and snipers, it was making him really irritated," she tells.
"He had convinced himself that if he let me go, they'd shoot him, and I had no idea what the protocol was. But there was one policeman who was talking to him and he was amazing. He was really calm and kept moving a bit closer to us, until he was just a couple of metres away."
Despite their shocking ordeal, which was caught on security cameras, Laura and Jessica were still determined to enjoy the birthday trip to see Taylor Swift perform.
"I was going from being fine to crying and screaming. I didn't know what was happening because he kept moving me around from one side of him to the other, using me as a shield. If a gun was pointed at him, he would move me in front of that and then he started moving me towards the doors."
Laura knew that if she was stabbed, there were so many people around that help would get to her quickly. But if he took her somewhere else, that could be quite scary.
"I started talking to him and asked him to let me go so that I could spend the day with my daughter," she tells. 'You're ruining my day!' I said to him at one stage."
Occasionally the man would say, "You're alright," but then something else would happen, like a policeman moving closer, and he would get irritated again.
"In the end, I just told him that if he put the knife down, I'd stay with him until they arrested him so that they couldn't shoot him. I said that whatever his issue was, he didn't need to be shot.
"Then he threw the knife on the ground and put his hands against the wall, while I stood between him and the police."
After he was handcuffed, Laura then stepped aside and was finally free. She spent the rest of the day trying to make sure she and Jessica had the trip they had planned.
"I was determined not to let him ruin Jessica's special day. It still was sort of ruined because I couldn't relax and enjoy it with her, and my phone never stopped ringing. But she loved the concert."
"I'm more aware of people around me now," the mum-of-six says of her shocking shopping trip.
Eight months on, Laura says she is angry her attacker has taken security away from her daughter.
"Every mother wants to be able to reassure her daughter that those things don't happen, that your mother won't be held at knifepoint at a mall in New Zealand. But I can't," she says. "And that's his fault.
"One of the things Jess has always wanted to do is have a sleepover with her friends on the trampoline outside. She won't now because she's worried someone might come on to our property with
a knife – and I can't tell her that will never happen because it could.
"We're both a bit jumpy and cautious with people, but that's about it. We don't want to give him that much power over us."

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