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Caleb Dean Henry (20) died after a shootout on the northern motorway with police just after 2am yesterday.
It is understood he spoke on a cellphone to police during the pursuit from the Kaimai Ranges to Takapuna and told them he wanted to speak to a family member "to say goodbye".
His uncle, William Henry, told the New Zealand Herald last night that the family believed Henry was trying to drive to his grandfather's grave in Kaikohe.
"He was going one place and that was home, that's where his grandfather is buried."
Henry was estranged from his father, and his maternal grandfather filled that role.
"He was closer than me - and that's my father," he said. "He passed away about eight years ago, and that had a big effect on him."
Henry made no secret of his love of guns during his time in the army - on his Bebo page he posted photographs of himself in his army gear with firearms and wrote: "Guns are cool. Guns are mean. Guns don't kill people, people kill people. Firearms can be the cause of many deaths, but ask yourself is it the firearm or is it the person using it?
"Many things have the use of doing good and bad it's up to the person using it, to how it's used. Please take care when around or using any type of firearm."
Recently he commented on a photograph on Facebook of himself armed with a rifle.
"As long as I'm on that side of the weapon I'm safe and whoever is on the other side is everything but," he wrote.
The Herald can reveal that Henry had warrants out for his arrest, and was wanted in relation to the fraudulent use of documents. The warrants were issued in the Gisborne District Court, but charges had not been laid against Henry.
The 20-year-old joined the army in March 2010, and spent time in Christchurch after the February 2011 earthquake.
Yesterday a New Zealand Defence Force spokesman confirmed Henry's service, and said he was discharged on July 18 last year for "disciplinary reasons". He had not been on overseas operations during his service.
Mr Henry said his nephew had dreamed of "being a GI Joe and defending his country".
But he noticed a difference in him after he left the service.
"Something went wrong and now this has happened. As far as the family are concerned, if he wants to play with guns, this is what happens - there's no playing action games."
The shootout drama started on Sunday evening, after Henry allegedly forced his way into the home of Opotiki couple Alan Looney, 66, and his wife Anne, 63.
The couple's hands were slashed and they were tied up before their attacker fled in their Ford Ranger with a rifle and a credit card.
Toxicology testing was done during a post mortem examination yesterday to establish whether Henry was under the influence of drugs or alcohol when he died.
Police would not discuss phone calls between Henry and them.
Henry had fired shots at police at least three times between the Kaimai Ranges and the northern motorway, where he was stopped by road spikes. He continued to shoot from the vehicle at police, who returned fire. It is not known where Henry was hit, or how many shots police fired.
Assistant Commissioner Alan Boreham said police "displayed considerable skill and judgment in resolving this incident without anyone else getting hurt".
As they pursued Henry, they ensured service stations were closed and traffic lights in their path were kept green to prevent any members of the public becoming involved in the high-speed drama.
"Police's first priority in any incident is to ensure the public and our officers are kept safe, and we are saddened for all of the families involved that this has ended in tragedy," said Mr Boreham.
"We also have two victims who have been left hurt and traumatised, but are very relieved that no one else was injured."
Mr and Mrs Looney had surgery yesterday for hand injuries. A neighbour told the Herald they had been "sliced" and had tendon damage.
The Looneys are one of Opotiki's oldest families, having lived in the area since 1902.
The couple oversee a dairy operation at Waiotahi, while family members run another farm at Tirau.
The driveway to their hill-top home and other entrances were under police guard yesterday.
Mr Looney and his wife were described as "good-living people" by his brother, who asked not to be named.
He told the Herald how he heard about the home invasion on the radio before learning who the victims were.
Another brother in Hamilton phoned him at 6am with the news.
"He said, have you heard what happened? I said yes, I've just been listening to the radio, and he said, yeah that was my brother ... it was Alan."