Former policeman’s new life and name

Huata Arahanga hugs 5-year-old Ayaan Naeem, who lost his father and brother in the massacre on...
Huata Arahanga hugs 5-year-old Ayaan Naeem, who lost his father and brother in the massacre on March 15, 2019. PHOTOS: GEOFF SLOAN
Following the March 15 terror attacks, Huata Arahanga decided it was time to move on from the police after 20 years and also change his name.

"There were a number of reasons I left the police, but one of them was the incident and my kids seeing me in full regalia with assault weapons in the weeks following.

"I think it really brought it home for them about how vulnerable I was in the role," he said.

Huata, previously known as Stuart Martindale, also decided to officially adopt the unofficial te reo name he was given from a young age and take his wife’s last name.

"I have lived in what we call the ‘Maori world’ and have been known as Huata for a very long time so decided to make it official.

"My wife lost her dad at the age of 11 and when we first got married, that was one of the only things she said her father had left her. So I am honoured that she asked me to take it."

Huata said the feedback he had received was "extremely positive and supportive".

On the day of the attacks, Huata was enjoying a rare day off until he received a text from a colleague saying "something big had gone down".

"All the years I spent with the police I never one day believed something that extreme could happen."

Shortly afterwards he was online and saw the appalling video of the gunman carrying out the attacks. He described this as a "real kick in the guts".

"A previous role of mine was managing the police Maori and ethnic services. One of our professional relationships was with our friends at the mosque, so I had spoken to and met with many of the people in the video."

After retiring from the police, he now works for Te Putahitanga o Te Waipounamu, a commissioning agency which works on behalf of the nine iwi in the South Island to assist whanau in realising their potential.

A moment that will always stick with him from his time in the police was when he attended a burial for victims of the shooting.

He came across his nephew Tyla Harrison-Hunt and his wife Saba Khan-Hunt, who lost both her uncle Mian Naeem Rashid and cousin Talha Naeem in the shootings.

"After they were walking back after burying their family I saw them and they saw me, it sounds a bit corny like a romantic movie, but I ran over, I just wanted to give her [Saba] a cuddle. It broke my heart because she broke down in my arms.

"I was Huata the uncle, not Huata the cop in that moment."

Beside Mrs Khan-Hunt was her 5-year-old cousin Ayaan, son to Mr Rashid and brother to Tahla.

"He was standing there and he was a bit shy but I bent over and my nephew Tyla said: ‘This is my uncle Hoots and because he is my uncle, he is yours, too.’ And as soon as he said that his arms just shot up, it just melted me. I got down on my knees and gave him a big cuddle and he whispered in my ear: ‘I like police.’

"It was one of those moments that will stick with me forever. A really heartwarming but heartbreaking and contradictory moment."

He had not seen Ayaan since then but a day did not go by that he did not think of him.

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