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The New Zealand Herald has learnt that neighbour Chris Foot ran to the house in an attempt to save 9-year-old Bradley and 6-year-old Ellen, and confronted their father Edward Livingstone, without knowing the children were already dead in their beds.
Last night, Mr Foot said he could not speak freely about the incident after being told not to by police.
"I was just trying to get the kids out of the house. I didn't give a f*** about the gun. But I don't want to say too much more, I've probably said enough already."
Details about the troubled last months of Livingstone, 51, are emerging but what made him snap before he drove to his estranged wife's Dunedin house and killed the couple's children before shooting himself is a mystery.
The Herald understands that as Ms Webb ran to Mr Foot's home she heard two gunshots.
Mr Foot then ran next door to the Livingstone house, in the harbour suburb of St Leonards.
He stood on the front porch and spoke to Livingstone who was inside the house, trying to talk him out of using the gun he was holding.
"Don't point that gun at me. Put the gun down," Mr Foot was heard saying.
Livingstone then aimed the shotgun at Mr Foot and fired a shot at him.
It's understood the gun kicked back, and the shot passed close over Mr Foot's head.
"It was a genuine attempt [at his life]. He's very lucky to be alive," a source told the Herald.
A barefooted Mr Foot returned to his house to put his boots on and returned to the Livingstone property intending to kick the door in and get the children out.
He went to the rear of the large bungalow and entered through the back door.
He found the two children dead in their beds.
A gunshot heard by neighbours soon after the shot was fired at Mr Foot is believed to have been the self-inflicted shot that killed Livingstone.
One elderly neighbour in Kiwi St described hearing the gunshots and Ms Webb's cries.
"I heard four shots before I heard her keening. It wasn't a cry, it was keening ... a wail," said the woman, who did not want to be named.
The gunshots came in quick succession, she recalled.
"They were 'pop, pop, pop, pop'."
Police converged on the street and about an hour later confirmed three people were dead.
Other neighbours told the Herald last night that Ms Webb was "absolutely terrified" of her estranged husband.
One said Livingstone had told her that he'd said he had "wanted to kill his family". She said she reported the incident to police.
Livingstone briefly lived with the Foots after he and his wife ended their marriage last May, the Herald has been told.
People who knew the family, including young children, left flowers outside the house, which was still cordoned off, last night.
In June last year, Ms Webb was granted a protection order against Livingstone, preventing him from contacting her in any way or approaching her.
The order was specific to her, and did not mention Bradley or Ellen.
Livingstone breached it in August, and was granted diversion. It is understood he sent Ms Webb email and left messages on her phone.
He was back before the courts in October, pleading guilty to a second breach of the order, and was discharged without conviction.
At that court appearance, it was revealed that Livingstone was attending counselling.
He was employed at the Corrections Department prison in Milton, about 50km south of Dunedin. He notified his boss when he was first charged and took time off.
He began working at the prison in an administrative role when it opened in 2007.
Corrections Department acting chief executive Jeremy Lightfoot said Livingstone had no contact or direct involvement with inmates.
After Corrections became aware of the protection order charge in August, it worked with Livingstone to ensure he had adequate support.
"He was going through a marriage break-up," said Mr Lightfoot.
"As any good employer would, we were making sure he had access to our employee assistance programmes and counselling."
Livingstone told his bosses about the second breach of the protection order in mid-September.
"At that point we wanted to take the opportunity to assess the situation. We suspended him for a period of about a month and he returned to work in mid-October.
"We maintained contact with him throughout that time, offering provision of additional counselling and support."
The prison manager contacted Livingstone just before Christmas, and he indicated his life was taking a positive turn.
"At that time he said he had formed a new relationship. Indications were that he was starting to feel more positive and things were perhaps turning a corner," Mr Lightfoot said.
Staff were shocked yesterday at news of the shootings.
"It has hit the site pretty hard. This will have a significant impact on staff."
The Work and Income New Zealand office where Ms Webb worked was closed for several hours yesterday while staff were told of the tragedy.
Winz deputy chief executive Debbie Power said everyone's thoughts were with her.
"We're all devastated and shocked, and everyone who knows her will need time and space to deal with this tragedy," she said.
"Over the coming days, people will be considering the best ways of supporting Katharine and her wider family and friends, in ways that will make a real difference for her. We will also support our colleagues as they come to terms with what has happened."
Sensible Sentencing Trust spokeswoman Ruth Money said Bradley and Ellen's deaths were "totally avoidable".
"It is another tragic tragic case of protection orders being merely pieces of paper and the courts letting the public down when people breach them," she said.
- Kurt Bayer and Anna Leask