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Amelia Lyons, 22, was walking home from work when Elliot Rodger went on a killing spree near the campus of the University of California, Isla Vista, Santa Barbara, on Friday night.
Mr Rodger stabbed three men to death in his apartment before carrying out drive-by shootings, killing three more people.
He was then locked in a gun battle with police before he crashed his BMW and took his own life.
Ms Lyons told reporters she was walking home after work on the night of the shooting when a police officer came "blazing past," running down the road with his gun out, and said "get inside, take cover, there's a shooter".
She ran home and when she came outside again 10 minutes later, the streets were full of police with large semi automatic rifles and handguns. "Obviously it was very freaky," she said.
"My neighbour was actually shot. It's crazy that it happens on your doorstep -- hard to believe that this sort of stuff goes on.
"It's very sombre here now. In this bright, upbeat town everyone's been calling their parents reassuring them they're okay."
She described Isla Vista as a sunny, upbeat town, where young students looked forward to a bright future.
"This kind of thing does not happen [here]."
Amelia's brother, Tom Lyons, last night told Hawkes Bay Today his sister was "doing good"after the terrifying ordeal.
"She got pulled into a stranger's house.
"When she got back to her house she realised her neighbour had been shot," Mr Lyons said.
Ms Lyons had lived in Ahuriri and studied at Iona College.
After graduating from the University of California last year, she had remained in Isla Vista with her American boyfriend.
- Harrison Christian of Hawke's Bay Today