Ashburton shooting: Suspect a 'good normal lad'

Donn McLaren was stunned when he heard his old school mate Russell John Tully was being hunted by police after a triple shooting in Ashburton yesterday morning.

The pair were mates at school, shared sporting interests and socialised together as teenagers and young adults. They caught up occasionally if Tully was home in Ashburton.

Mr McLaren described him as a "good, normal lad".

"He worked in Ashburton and did his diesel mechanic's apprenticeship at Candy's and then in his mid to late 20s headed off to the mines in Australia."

Mr McLaren said he caught up with Tully about six years ago and it appeared his life was pretty much on track.

He recalls that Tully's mother died when he was at college and his father shortly after. He believes he has a sister.

Back then he was known as Russell.

They reconnected as adults.

"He was a fun kind of guy. A big bloke. He was a great rugby player, a guy with a lot of future ahead of him."

He contacted Tully a few weeks ago after reading an article in the Ashburton Guardian telling the story of his search for somewhere to live.

The Tully he met up with was still the same man, he said, apart from an illness that had made it impossible for him to work.

Ashburton Guardian reporter Toni Williams interviewed Tully when he was searching for a home.

"When I talked to him he was very calm, very reasoned. He was a large man, so you could see he could be intimidating, but he basically just wanted to come home to die," Mrs Williams said.

She found him open and honest as he talked about his homeless plight.

When she realised the man she had interviewed was being sought for the killings, Mrs Williams said she felt ill.

"I certainly never felt threatened by him, but now I just feel sick. Two people have lost their lives."

- By Sue Newman of the Ashburton Guardian

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