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Gunman kills six in latest NZ rampage

Raurimu (Reuters) - A gunman went on the rampage in a rural New Zealand hamlet yesterday, killing six people and seriously wounding up to five others in the latest in a series of mass murders that have shattered the country's tranquil image.

A 24-year-old man, whose name was not released, has been charged with one count of murder after being found naked and unarmed close to the scene of the slayings, the North Island village of Raurimu.

Using a 12-gauge shotgun, the gunman cut a swathe through Raurimu, starting at the Spiral Lodge, used by skiers frequenting Mount Ruapehu's ski slopes during the winter season, and moving to another lodge, leaving bodies scattered over a wide area. Local residents said two of the victims were the parents of the alleged killer, who had a history of psychiatric problems, and some of the others were related to him. According to the proprietor of a nearby motel, some of the suspect's family had been in Raurimu for a reunion.

At one stage, the proprietor said, the gunman fired randomly from a bus shelter at oncoming traffic. One of the dead was a young woman who was walking along the roadside, trying to hitch a lift. "One guy was going to pick her up, then he saw the guy with the shotgun and kept going," the proprietor said. "He looked back and saw the woman getting shot to pieces."

Yesterday's slaying is the fifth mass slaughter in the 1990s to shock New Zealand, a country of 3.5 million, and undermine its image as a green and peaceful place. The worst was in 1990 when 13 people were killed by David Gray in Aromana, a hamlet near Dunedin on the South Island. The police shot him dead after a siege.