Terror in aisle seven: Inside the Dunedin Countdown knife attack

Dunedin man Luke James Lambert was today sentenced to 13 years in prison after pleading guilty to four charges of attempted murder stemming from a premeditated and brutal knife attack on four random strangers in a Dunedin supermarket last year.

If not for the heroic intervention of an off-duty cop, another officer on his lunch break and supermarket staff Lambert likely may have hurt more people or even killed someone.

Those there on the day – the wounded, the witnesses and the lifesavers -spoke exclusively to senior crime journalist Anna Leask about the terrifying and violent attack.

12:38pm.

Monday May 10, 2020.

Luke James Lambert walks into the Countdown supermarket in central Dunedin and stops briefly in the foyer at a Westpac ATM to check his bank balance.

The 42-year-old looks at the screen, retrieves his card from the slot then turns and walks through the clacking metal turnstile into the store.

Lambert, bearded and dishevelled, wanders the aisles for half an hour before selecting a pie and a soft drink.

He goes to the checkout and pays for the items, then grabs a couple of cans of beer and swipes his card to pay a second time.

The transaction fails. The word “declined” pops up on the payment screen.

“Insufficient funds.”

Lambert leaves the beer, and the supermarket, sauntering out the main doors at 1.07pm.

But he wasn’t done at Countdown for the day – far from it.

Just over an hour later -between the usual lunchtime rush and the arrival of the often-frantic post-work pre-dinner shoppers – it was business as usual inside Countdown.

A detective constable on his lunch break perused the produce section as he shopped for dinner ingredients.

A frontline constable on her day off was four or five aisles over. She’d been in town that day running errands and decided to whip into the city supermarket before heading home.

Jenny McDowell had just seen her dad onto a bus at the Intercity stop next to Countdown and thought while she was there she might as well go in and grab supplies – travel-sized toiletries and antibacterial wipes -for a trip she was about to take.

Vanessa Andrews, 57, and her Corrections officer husband Jorge Fuenzalida, 60, meandered the same aisle as McDowell, choosing grocery items. The couple had finished work for the day, been for coffee and were doing their weekly shop.

A couple of metres from them, a Countdown staffer was restocking shelves, her back to the customers as she concentrated on her work.

Through the nearby “staff only” doors, online shopping manager Ryan – who was supposed to clock off at 2.30pm but was staying late to help out – was overseeing customer orders.

And Dallas Wilson, one of the store’s senior managers, was on the shop floor, making sure everything was running smoothly in one of his last shifts before he left for a new job.

As the shoppers shopped and the workers worked, a familiar face walked back through the main doors of the supermarket, and pushed back through that noisy turnstile.

A wild Lambert was about to erupt – violently and almost fatally – and no one could have seen it coming.

At about 2pm Lambert was clocked by a mate in the Octagon, a few hundred metres from Countdown.

He was “agitated and pacing around”.

He told his mate that “the doctor” wouldn’t give him any medication and that “someone is going to get it”.

“Who is going to ‘get it’?” the mate asked.

“Don’t worry,” said Lambert.

By 2.30pm he was sauntering back into Countdown.

From the turnstiles, he immediately turned left, and travelled 30 paces, give or take, to aisle 6.

He picked up a packet of four 70mm vegetable knives.

Lambert then strode to aisle 7 – next to the pharmacy housing toiletries, cosmetics, medical and personal items.

Halfway along the white-tiled, brightly lit section Lambert stopped.

He placed his backpack on the floor.

He removed two of the knives from the packaging.

He walked to the staffer stocking the shelves and grabbed her, spinning her around to face him before he slashed her from the left ear lobe to the chin.

Stunned, she tried to back away but Lambert wasn’t letting her go.

He pushed her to the floor and continued the attack – cutting her chin, her ear, her body and her arms and hands as she tried to fend him off.

“I’m going to kill you,” Lambert told her as he drove the knife into her skin over and over.

Store manager Dallas Wilson heard her screams and came running.

Without hesitation he grabbed Lambert, tried to pull the man off his colleague.

Wilson managed to restrain Lambert, holding him from behind around his upper body.

Fuenzalida ran into the fray, along with another Countdown staffer. The pair tried to help Wilson stop the attacker.

Lambert swung the knife and it made contact with Wilson multiple times.

He was stabbed in the upper abdomen and in the right side of his torso.

One blow to his pelvis was so deep it struck bone.

Lambert struggled free and Fuenzalida fell to the floor.

His wife tried to get to him but Lambert grabbed her and drove the knife twice into her back.

As Andrews crumpled to the floor, Lambert turned back to Fuenzalida, stabbing him in the chest and upper stomach as he lay on his back, unable to get away.

Lambert stabbed Andrews in the back twice more, piercing an artery and the lining of her lung and puncturing a muscle.

The attack on Andrews only stopped when Fuenzalida lunged forward and grabbed her.

Lambert then took to Fuenzalida again, thrusting the vegetable knife into the man’s neck.

Ryan ran out from the back and couldn’t believe his eyes – the blood, the people lying on the floor, the absolute horror.

He wanted to run but he found his feet carrying him forward to do something – anything – to help.

Officer B burst into the aisle and demanded Lambert stop, drop the knife.

He threatened her and then tried to wound Fuenzalida further.

Officer A hurled bottles of household cleaner at Lambert in a bid to distract him so someone could grab the bloody knife.

And then Lambert was finally overcome, subdued and restrained.

As sirens began to sound outside, Ryan raced to Fuenzalida who was bleeding profusely from his neck.

Ryan tore off his Countdown issued jersey and held it tight against the wound, trying to save the man’s life but terrified it was too little and too late.

Emergency services converged – the sound of black police-issued boots thundering across the supermarket tiles, the wheels of stretchers driven frantically by paramedics not far behind.

The violence stopped almost as quickly as it started. The attack spanned just 90 seconds.

But for those in aisle 7, the ordeal was far from over.

Ayear on, Officers A and B can still hear the screaming.

Both agreed to speak to the Herald about what they saw that day on the condition their names were not published.

Violent, chaotic and nasty are words they used to describe what happened in aisle 7 that day.

“I heard a female screaming, the type of screaming that makes your stomach sink,” said Officer B.

“I could see people running in the next aisle then more yelling and screaming.

“I moved around to the pharmacy and looked down the aisle, it was very chaotic. It would have only been a couple of seconds but it felt like ages.

“There was someone lying unconscious on the ground, people trying to run out of the supermarket, lots of yelling and screaming.

“I could see the offender and I initially thought he was punching at people due to how fast he was moving his arms but then I saw the knife in his right hand. He had a knife in each hand at that point and I realised he was stabbing people.

“He was intentionally going for people’s necks.”

Officer B started to call 111 but she could tell the man wasn’t going to stop the attack.

“He was actively attacking people and I did what I could, he had his back to me so I ran at him to pull him away from the others, someone else tried to help pull him back as well,” she told the Herald.

“He tried to direct the knife towards me but because of the angle I was at he had no force behind it.

“I stepped back and that’s when I saw my colleague on the other side; he was throwing whatever he could find at the offender. I remember a couple of items hitting him square in the head distracting him.”

Officer A heard the screaming from the produce aisle and, like his colleague, knew straight away something terrible was happening.

“At first it sounded just like shouting but the screaming quickly became distressed.

“I went to see what was going on. People were running and shouting. As I came around the corner of the pharmacy aisle, I saw the male holding onto someone.

“I saw people running away and that’s when I heard someone say, ‘he has a knife’.

“I was about to intervene but backed off when I heard this.”

As a detective, Officer A wore business attire to work rather than full police uniform with baton, taser, OC spray and the like attached to his belt.

“I saw the man was stabbing the person he was holding onto in the neck. I retreated for a bit and looked around for something to engage the man with,” he said.

“I found an Ajax display stand and started throwing the bottles at him.

“I was trying to keep my distance and hopefully distract the man enough so he would stop stabbing the person.

“I saw one of my colleagues and another person grab him from behind before everyone ended up on the ground.

“I grabbed a nearby chair and started hitting the man with it to try and get him to drop the knife.”

Officer B also got hold of a chair and used it to restrain Lambert.

“The floor was incredibly slippery from spilled cleaning products and blood,” she remembered.

“We got him to the ground and restrained him, others assisted and helped hold him to the ground.

“He wouldn’t let go of knives and kept trying to get up, he wasn’t going to stop.”

As Lambert was taken down Fuenzalida was “tangled up” with him.

Officer A said the man was bleeding “heavily” and he tried to help him.

“I dragged him away and asked a nearby Countdown staff member to take off his jersey and apply it to his neck to try and stop the bleeding,” he said.

“I went back to the offender and helped pin him down with the chair while we waited for uniformed police to arrive.

“I remember the three of us pleading with him to drop the knife.”

Officer A was worried he would get stabbed as he tried to disarm Lambert.

“When he ended up on the ground I knew he had to be kept there until help arrived.

“It was a tricky situation because I could see the male victim needed urgent medical attention but If I let up on the offender he may get up and continue with his attack.”

Dunedin’s central police station is next to the supermarket – less than 150m from door to door.

Because of this Officer B was confident help would arrive soon.

And when she heard “a lot of cops” coming, she felt “so relieved”.

She also feared being injured by the knife but did not hesitate in responding.

“I remember thinking that I don’t have my vest or any [police-issued tactical devices] so to stay on my feet as long as possible and try and get the offender to the ground,” she said.

“There was definitely a thought that I may get hurt but I knew the police wouldn’t be far away.

“I knew I had to do something to try and help and prevent others from getting hurt.

“At the end when we had him restrained on the ground I remember feeling very frustrated when he kept trying to get up, I could see people who had been stabbed were bleeding out and couldn’t help them while the offender was still trying to carry on the attack.”

Before Lambert’s sentencing Officer B said it was “still quite unbelievable that it happened”.

“It’s still quite surreal to think about what happened, I still can’t believe it happened,” she said.

“I’m very proud of everyone that helped and those that administered great initial first aid.

“Everyone that jumped in did the best they could in a situation that was very violent and very chaotic, the fact that there was no loss of life I think shows the great work that was done.”

Ryan still works at Countdown so asked the Herald not to publish his last name.

He went back to work just days after the attack – like most of his colleagues.

A blessing of the site. A walkthrough with a counsellor. Back to business.

Don’t be mistaken – Ryan was and is still traumatised by what he saw that day but he’s managed to put it in a place in his mind that’s allowed him to get back to normal.

“I was out the back until I heard the screaming,” he said.

“I thought initially it was kids and I didn’t think much of it, then I heard it become more distinct – ‘help, someone’s attacking’,” he said.

“I came out into the store and saw it all happening. The guy with the knife… It freaked me out, I stood there frozen, I didn’t know what to do.”

Ryan ran to help and after checking on Andrews, turned to Fuenzalida who was “lying down in blood”.

“I just helped him. I took my jersey off and pushed it against where the blood was coming from. It was very daunting, I’m not great with blood but the adrenalin took over.

“A woman came up who knew the attacker and she was saying his name. I didn’t know what was going on, I felt very out of place.

“Then [Officers A and B] came and dragged him onto the ground. I tried to disarm him, tried to take the knife off him.

“He was shouting words like ‘witchcraft’ – words that didn’t fit with what was going on. His eyes were really bloodshot.”

Ryan said the day was “horrifying”.

“It’s not a scenario I ever would have suspected would happen – to see a human potentially dying in front of you. But it was my moral responsibility to just get in there,” he said.

After Lambert was restrained Ryan noticed one of the victims was his workmate.

He was shocked to see her injured and bloodied.

Before she was rushed to hospital she asked Ryan to call her daughter and tell her what had happened.

“She freaked out and just screamed. Then I went out the back [of the store] and the shock set in.

“It all impacted on me. I realised what had happened, what I had done, how my life could have ended in the blink of an eye. It was so sudden.

“I went back to work on the Sunday. The store was not the enemy, it was the person who did the act.

“It took me a few weeks until I could walk down aisle 7. I couldn’t walk down there without seeing things.

“It took at least a month to really start to block out the images.”

None of the people directly involved in taking Lambert down, disarming him – saving lives – like the term hero.

The cops say they were just doing their job and Ryan did what he felt was right.

But Jenny McDowell, who watched it all unfold, believes “hero” is an understatement for those who threw themselves into the carnage.

“Their actions were really heroic and I just hope they’re all doing okay. I do think about them and wonder how they’re getting on,” she said.

A year after the attack she still hasn’t managed to block the images out and struggles going back to the store a year on from the frenzied attack.

“I never thought that it would impact me in the way that it has,” she said.

“There was so much blood. I can just see all the blood and that man lying there. I thought he was going to bleed out and die.

“I’ve had huge anxiety around going back to Countdown, I’ve been working with an occupational therapist on what they call ‘graduated exposure’. I’m able to go back and get a few things but I still find doing the weekly shop there still quite overwhelming.

“Sometimes it’s okay and sometimes especially when I’m going down that aisle I get hit with fear, panic, flashbacks of all the blood.”


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