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Police have called for restraint after a post seeking information on a man labelled "Gore's most wanted" attracted more than 1300 comments, with some descending into racism.
Hori Gemmell allegedly stole a police patrol vehicle and two loaded pistols in Gore late on Wednesday and remained at large last night, despite a massive manhunt involving raids on properties across Eastern Southland.
Police posted an appeal for information yesterday morning and the post soon attracted comments.
Gemmell was labelled "Gore's most wanted" by one and his appearance was widely mocked, with his facial hair labelled "bumfluff" and a "pre-beard".
"Finally someone with a beard worse than mine," said another commenter before a plea was issued: "So sad, leave Mr Tumnus alone."
Gemmell was teased for appearing to have been crying in his police mugshot: "Poor Fulla. Looks like he's had the fat cry. Someone give him a hug."
The post also saw dozens of comments from people mocking Gemmell's first name and making racist comments.
Some were upset by the comments, with one person writing: "I can't believe New Zealand Police allows all this violent disgusting behavior by its citizens. There is no need for the ugly words. Just pass the info along and be polite. This is why New Zealand needs to ban hate speech and bullying."
Police did respond, asking users to "please support us by refraining from posting unhelpful or derogatory comments".
Southern District Commander Superintendent Paul Basham said at a press conference in Gore yesterday the officers had left their keys in the car when they went to pursue the suspect, who then doubled back and stole their car.
He allegedly later abandoned the patrol car, taking loaded police-issue Glock pistols, using the keys to access a lock box.
Basham said the officers involved were now at home and he did not want to pre-judge their actions during the "dynamic situation", and was quick to defend the pair.
"Overall, they did a pretty good job."
Additional reporting Otago Daily Times