Waikino school shooting




It will be a long while before Waikino recovers from the horror of yesterday’s tragedy at the public school. As I informed you yesterday, two of the children, Kelvyn Morris McLean, aged 13 years, and Charles Allen Stewart, aged 9 years, were” killed, eight other children were wounded, the headmaster j (Mr. R. T. Reid) was wounded, and Constable H. J. Olsen, of Waihi, was badly shot in the groin while trying to arrest the maniac who committed the outrage.

The full list of the victims is as follows:—


Kelvyn Morris McLean, aged 13 years, son of Mr. Thomas Henry McLean, settler, of Waitewheta.

Charles Allen Stewart, aged 9 years, son of Mr. Charles A. Stewart, locomotive driver, of Waikino.


Robert Thomas Reid, headmaster, shot in the jaw. Operated upon in hospital, and in a serious condition.

Herbert J. Olsen, police constable, shot in the abdomen. Operated upon, and also in a serious condition.

Peter James McKenney, aged 8 years, shot through the right hand.

Kathleen Sarah McGarry, aged 13 years, shot in the thigh; condition serious.

Alexander Bustard, aged 12 years, shot in the groin; condition serious.

Peter Raymond Shaw, aged 12 years, shot in the hand.


James Cochrane, aged 12 years, right arm broken.

Ashley Curry, aged 13 years, sprained wrist.

Waikino is a mining township some nine miles from Paeroa and four from Waihi, on the Paeroa-Waihi Road. It is the centre where is situated the huge battery of the Waihi Gold Mining Co., one of the large batteries of the world, the quartz being brought down from Waihi by the company’s own trains.

John Higgins, the man responsible for yesterday’s unparalleled crime, is an elderly man, a firewood dealer and settler, who had been looked upon by the Waikino people as a somewhat morose sort of individual, but such an act of violence as was committed was never associated with him even by the wildest stretch of the imagination.

Out of the Way.

As the school is situated about half a mile from the centre of the township, and away up on high ground that rises rapidly from the road, it may be described as somewhat a lonely situation, and this facilitated the perpetration of the crime. It was about 10 o’clock that Higgins climbed the hill to the school, and rather dumbfounded the headmaster by saying he had come to shoot all the children in the school, and adding, “You can go and tell the police.” Seeing at once that Higgins’ was excited and far from normal, Mr. Reid endeavoured to pacify him and get him in a quieter mood, but Higgins. refused to be calmed. He reiterated his statement, and getting more excited drew an automatic pistol and began to wave it about. Seeing that things were approaching a crisis Mr. Reid shouted out to his assistants and the children to run for their lives.

Headmaster Shot.

When this took place Higgins clearly showed that he intended to shoot, and Mr. Reid tried to stop him getting by to attack the flying children, but Higgins fired and hit him in the jaw. Mr. Reid fell to the ground and feigned death. Turning him with his foot Higgins muttered, “You’re settled; you can do no more damage!” Thinking he had settled the head master the maniac now turned his attention to the children who were streaming out of class-rooms that open into a roofed-in porch at one end of which the headmaster’s room is situated.

Two Children Murdered.

Although it is not very clear, it seems pretty certain that Higgins did not actually go into either of the classrooms—there being one on each side of he porch —and that he did the shooting from the vicinity of the headmaster’s room, which commands the exit doors. Firing shot after shot at the struggling mass of children Higgins, although he fired somewhat wildly, hit many of them, and killed two of them outright —McLean and Stewart. At last the last of the screaming children got out of the building, and hey all flew down the incline towards he main road.

The Village Alarmed.

In the meantime the fusillade had been heard in the township, and a number of men ran out to the school to investigate. The terrified children quickly told them that a man was shooting with a revolver and that he was still in the school. Rushing up the men saw Higgins standing at the window of the headmaster’s room. When he saw them he got more excited and yelled out to them to come closer as he wanted to shoot them, waving his revolver madly. As they were quite unarmed, and they did not know what weapons Higgins had they kept out of range, and some of them went back to the village to get some firearms. They raked up several, including a Territorial’s rifle.

Still Firing. While this party had gone down to get arms, Higgins firing through the window at which he had stationed himself, aimed at the men who had remained behind to watch him, and several of the shots went perilously near their mark. Meanwhile the Waihi police had been telephoned for, and quickly covering the four miles between the two townships, Sergeant O’Grady and Constable H. J. Olsen were soon on the scene. The headmaster’s room, with the window through which Higgins had been firing, is situated on the eastern side of the building—that which faces away from the main road. What is actually the front of the school —the door into the roofed-in porch—faces the west, or the side fronting the road and the railway line.

School Besieged.

Some of the onlookers wanted to rush the building, but Senior-Sergeant O’Grady saw that would be foolish, as no one knew what ammunition the madman had, or what arms he carried. Going round to the western side of the building, the police found that Higgins must have followed their movements, and he must have left his station at the window of the headmaster’s room, for the police were fired on when they tried to get in at the porch door. Higgins then turned his attention once more on the crowd on the other side of the building, and Sergt. O’Grady fired a couple of shots at him through the fanlight over the entrance door of the porch, but Higgins evidently expected something of the kind, for he crouched down behind a cupboard. Higgins Fired On. By this time there were several rifles and revolvers among the men who had come up from the village, and the police gave them permission to fire on the maniac inside the building. Owing to the nature of the ground, however, and the fact that it was necessary to take what shelter there was, they could not get in a straight shot at Higgins, who could dodge flack from the window and screen himself by the woodwork. His attention being attracted by this shooting on the eastern side, the sergeant and Constable Olsen rushed in through the porch door and along to the shelter of the wall of the headmaster’s room. The door from the porch into the headmaster’s room is on the left hand side of the wall, and in this door there was a hole knocked by a bullet.

Kept Up Shooting.

The police demands to Higgins to surrender were disregarded, and the madman kept up shooting whenever he heard a stir. Constable Olsen then edged from the shelter of the wall to the door to take a look through the bullet hole to see exactly where Higgins was standing. Higgins must have heard him, for, whipping round from the window, he blazed at the door, and a bullet hit Olsen in the groin. Constable Trask had by now joined the sergeant in the building. Sergeant O’Grady made several more shots at the murderer, but as he could not see what he was aiming at none of the bullets took effect.


Some time had now elapsed since the awful tragedy began, and whether Higgins saw that it was all over or whether his frenzy was passing off it is impossible to say, but he plainly showed that a change had come over his mad manner, and he showed a disposition to listen. He was again called on to surrender by the sergeant, and after some hesitation he threw his revolver out of the window. The police then burst in the door —though they had no idea whether or not Higgins had a second revolver — and immediately seized the man, who made no resistance. He was felled and handcuffed, and taken to the police cells at Waihi.

The Dead.

In order to get Constable Olsen out without molestation the police had barricaded the door leading into the headmaster’s rooms with desks, in order to block Higgins if he should attempt to rush out and surprise them. When the door was finally burst open by the police’ the headmaster, Mr. Reid, was found lying on the floor in a pool of blood. It was naturally thought he was dead, but after the capture of Higgins he got up. Luckily for him he feigned death very well, or Higgins would have finished his dastardly work. Mr. Reid was hit in the jaw, and the bullet seems to have injured his throat. His condition to-day is serious. There were pools of blood where the two children had fallen, one being in the porch and the other in the right hand class room.

Tending the Wounded.

While the siege of the school was going on, Dr. T. E. Short, of Waihi, who had tome over with the police, and Dr. Cole, who quickly followed, had been attending to the wounded children, who were hurried off to the Waihi Hospital by ambulance. There were most painful scenes when the two little children who had fallen innocent victims to the maniac’s revolver were carried down the hill and laid out in the Waikino Hall—the building where the children had so often been merry at entertainments got up for the benefit of the school funds by their energetic headmaster, who always took such a keen interest in everything pertaining to the school life.

The Motive.

At first people were at a loss to assign any motive for the crime. Higgins was not a very sociable man, but he had never been associated with any idea of such an appalling thing as had happened. It gradually became known, however that during the morning he had received a letter from the education authorities regarding a boy who was not being sent to school as required by the Education Act. It is thought that this caused j him to go up to the school to interview I the headmaster. On two occasions Higgins has been fined for failing to send the boy to school.

It later transpired that Higgns’ son had already left school, being 16 years old. The motivation for his crimes appeared to be victimisation he’d suffered from his neighbours and a deal of paranoia.

A modern day account of the Waikino school massacre may be found here: http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/8112416/Murder-in-a-small-Kiwi-school

Two people died and nine were injured when John C. Higgins walked into Waikino school carrying a gun, three sticks of gelignite and a detonator.

from http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&d=HNS19231023.2.43 the text of which appears below


Condition of wounded grave anxiety for Reid

Funeral of Victims

(by Telegraph – Press Association)

WAIHI, Oct. 22.

The Funeral of the two victims of the Waikino school house tragedy, when two lads were shot dead by John C. Higgins, took place at the Waihi Cemetery yesterday afternoon. The hearse bearing the coffins was followed by several hundreds, including the teachers and pupils of the Waihi and Waikino public schools. The community is still profoundly stirred by the awfulness of the man’s act.

Grave anxiety is still felt for the lives of Robert T. Reid, the headmaster, Constable H. G. Olsen and Alexander Bustard, aged 13 years. Some slight improvement in the conditions of Reid, Olsen, and Bustard was reported to-day, while the girl Kathleen McGarry is out of danger.

A pathetic incident is reports in the case of the shootnig (sic) of the lad McLean. The latter appealing put out his hands to Higgins and said: “You won’t shoot me, Mr Higgins. I want to go home to my mother.” The lad was well known to Higgin, the McLeans and Higgins being neighbours.

In the shooting of the lad Raymond Shaw, the latter was in the act of climbing out of a window when a bullet struck him on his fingers, which caused him to fall back into the schoolroom. He crawled and hid under the desks, and later, when Higgins was shooting in another part of the building, he made a second and successful attempt to climb out of the window.

According to Higgins’ own statement to the police it appears he had no particular resentment against the Education Board, and made no complaint against the headmaster or the teaching staff. He said that during the past three years he had lost three or four horses, and their loss he attributed to the action of settlers in the neighbourhood. He said the devil entered into him when he shot Reid, and he did not clearly know what he was doing after, but he added that he was sure he did not fire at any girl.

Higgins has a wife and two boys, aged 16 and 6 years. The former left school last Christmas and the other boy had not started to go to school. The wife is a small, thin woman, whom he married in Canada just before leaving that country for New Zealand. During 16 years on their present bush holding the wife had only been in Waikino township about half a dozen times.