Regional | Gangs

Ōpōtiki schools shut as gang tensions rise

Gang members and vehicles line an Ōpōtiki street near an address where slain Mongrel Mob president Steven Rota Taiatini is believed to lie. Photo / NZME

Schools in the east coast town of Ōpōtiki have decided to close till at least Thursday, amid increasing gang tensions.

Two homicides and a series of arsons have blighted the region over the past several days.

The first death was that of father of 11, Mana Takao, whose body was found down a bank on Matahi Valley Rd in nearby Waimana on June 1.

A burnt-out house on Ford St Ōpōtiki, which was set alight Sunday evening amid flaring gang tensions and two homicides in the region. Photo / NZME

On Monday police confirmed the death of 45-year-old Steven Rota Taiatini, who was killed on Friday.

Officers were called to a “disorder-related incident” on Saint John St at about 11.05pm where they found a man at the scene with serious injuries, who could not be revived.

Both men were believed to be members of the Mongrel Mob, with Taiatini reportedly the president of the gang's Barbarians chapter.

Ōpōtiki Primary School said Monday that management had taken the decision to close Tuesday and Wednesday.

"Ngā mihi aroha ki ngā whānau katoa ki tō mātou hapori whānui" the school posted on Facebook.

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"Given the current situation in Ōpōtiki with the recent tragic event and heightened emotions, our school management in consultation with the school board of trustees have mutually agreed that the best course of action right now is to close the school tomorrow, Tuesday the 12th of June and on Wednesday the 13th of June."

Ōpōtiki Primary School where the mokopuna and tamariki of the slain men are believed to attend. Photo / Manaakitia o Potiki

The post said student safety was paramount.

"The decision has not been an easy one. However, the wellbeing of our students is our top priority and we hope our whānau and school community understand the circumstances of our decision as we work together through these difficult and trying times."

Several hours later, management at Ōpōtiki College went further, saying the school would be shuttered for the remainder of the week.

"In consultation with the Police, Te Whakatōhea Trust Board, Te Rūnanga Nui o Whakatōhea and principals of local schools our board of trustees and the Ministry of Education have supported my decision to close the College for the remainder of the week," principal Terehia Channings wrote on Facebook at 5 p.m. Monday.

"All sports events and extra-curricular activities are also cancelled," Channings wrote "but will be rescheduled where possible".

"I know this will impact our rangatahi. However, safety for all has to be the priority under these circumstances."

Mana Takao, whose body was found down a bank at Waimana in the Eastern Bay of Plenty. Photo / Supplied

Sources speaking to Whakaata Māori on condition of anonymity have said there is a heightened sense of tension in the town following the deaths and two arsons, one at a bach on the outskirts of the town on Monday afternoon, and the second at a house on Ford st, within the town on Sunday evening.

"Honestly, you have no idea," one wrote. "This is insane."

Mongrel Mob members have created stakeouts on the town perimeter to keep out rival gang members, according to one source.

The blame for the deaths is allegedly being pinned on members of the rival Black Power gang.

"That's what everyone's saying. It's the Black Power," the source said.

Police have confirmed a heightened presence in the region for the coming days, with a source saying they're most concerned about events in the lead-up to a tangi for Taiatini, apparently scheduled for the weekend.

A member of the public said groups of vehicles with officers who appeared to be AOS (Armed Offenders Squad) members were patrolling the region, with a police source telling Whakaata Māori late Monday that backups were also being sent from the surrounding area.

A member of the volunteer fire brigade said they were being kept in the region overnight with authorities fearing additional arson.s

Whakaata Māori understands the mokopuna of one of the slain men attend the schools, which was part of the consideration to have them closed.

Children of Takao had also attended "several years back".

Steven Rota Taiatini, 45, was killed following a “disorder-related incident” on St John St, Ōpōtiki. Photo / NZME

Two men were arrested on Friday in connection with the death of Takao, just hours before Taiatini was killed.

A 32-year-old and a 25-year-old man will appear in the Whakatāne District Court on Wednesday, although Te Ao Māori News understands the court will be closed for their appearances.

The men have been charged with two counts of kidnapping and one count of aggravated robbery.

Anyone who witnesses anything suspicious in Ōpōtiki or has concerns for their safety is urged to call 111 immediately, or 105 after the fact.

People with information that may assist the investigation can contact police via 105, referencing file number 230610/2652.

Information can also be provided anonymously via Crime Stoppers on 0800 555 111 or online via

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