Suspect had returned to die

Russell John Tully, the suspect at the centre of yesterday's triple shooting, was a sick, homeless man who had returned to Ashburton to die.

But a mate says his old friend was a ''good, normal lad'' who once had a bright future.

Tully, known as John, approached the Ashburton Guardian last month to air his frustrations over the lack of accommodation in his home town for people in his situation.

Tully said he had moved back to Ashburton to die from an unidentified skin disease which caused boil-type lumps if untreated, which had tightened his joints and caused limited movement. He had been working in the mines in Australia before that.

The 48-year-old was on a disability benefit and said his doctor had told him he should have a mobility scooter.

After a falling out with his flatmate, Tully was living rough while on the waiting list for a Housing New Zealand property.

Presbyterian Support, through the emergency housing fund, housed him for four nights and Tully said he had been in touch with Housing New Zealand and Winz, Ashburton Mayor Angus McKay and Rangitata MP Jo Goodhew's office.

As a cry for help, he pitched his tent openly at the Ashburton Domain, but after visits from security and 27 telephone calls to the police from concerned members of the public, he was moved on.

He said he slept in his car, but then had to sell it to get some money. Days later, with no solution found, Tully told the Guardian he would contact Winston Peters with his story.

On August 14, he emailed New Zealand First staff and the offices of the Speaker and ministers Gerry Brownlee and Paula Bennett among others.

New Zealand First press secretary Judith Hughey said that a reply was immediately sent to Tully and several follow-up emails were sent.

Those emails bounced back. Donn McLaren was stunned when he heard his old school mate was being hunted by police after yesterday's triple shooting.

The pair 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 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.

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.

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

By Erin Tasker and Sue Newman Russell, of the Ashburton Guardian.

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