WINZ killings: Inside the mind of accused gunman - his plea for help

By Erin Tasker, Sue Newman -

Russell John Tully had been vocal about his failure to find a bed and was living rough, including pitching a tent in the public domain, while waiting for a Housing NZ property

Russell John Tully had been to the local paper expressing his concerns about the lack of accommodation for people like himself. Photo / Ashburton Guardian
Russell John Tully had been to the local paper expressing his concerns about the lack of accommodation for people like himself. Photo / Ashburton Guardian

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

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But a mate says his old friend was a "good, normal lad" who once had a bright future ahead of him.

Read today's coverage of the killings here:
How tragedy unfolded: Farmer tells of dramatic capture, as first victim named - a loved resident and avid cards player
WINZ killings: Victim lived near scene of shooting
Ashburton mayor vows his town will 'work through this' together

Russell John 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'd 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'd 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'd been in touch with Housing New Zealand and Winz, Ashburton mayor Angus McKay and Rangitata MP Jo Goodhew's office.

Video: Police storm house looking for killer

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Earlier, Minister of Social Development Paula Bennett said the suspect had been issued a trespass notice from the Ashburton Winz offices last week for intimidating behaviour.

He had also been issued a trespass notice by Presbyterian Support, which was locked down immediately after yesterday's incident, the Guardian learned.

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.

Read yesterday's coverage here:
Work and Income shooting: 'Huge relief' after arrest
Interview with suspect Russell Tully shows his state of mind
Ashburton Work and Income shooting: Suspect arrested
'I could feel the air whoosh past my head'
Ashburton shooting: Winston Peters says emails to Tully kept bouncing back
Roll-call of abuse and attacks at Work and Income

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.

He was a great rugby player, a guy with a lot of future ahead of him.
Donn McLaren, old schoolmate

I certainly never felt threatened by him, but now I just feel sick.
Toni Williams, Ashburton Guardian reporter

He was a fun kind of guy. A big bloke.
Donn McLaren

The pair shared sporting interests and socialised together as teenagers and young adults. They caught up occasionally if Tully was home in Ashburton and 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."

Video: Two people shot dead in Ashburton

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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.

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

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

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

- The Ashburton Guardian

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