They remember the terrorist as someone who found joy in this country to which he had escaped.
He played football at Te Henga, hiked the Waitākere Ranges, camped and played games at Motutapu Island.
He made jokes. Most were funny but some so bad they revealed both his desire to connect and his desperate inability to do so.
Sometimes, he tested out what he had learned online about Islamic State and other young men who knelt in prayer with him at an Auckland mosque drew sharply back, saying, brother, this is not Islam.
That was in late 2015 and early 2016, about four years after Ahamed Aathill Mohamed Samsudeen arrived in New Zealand with a student visa and a fractured mind. It's the mid-point between his arrival and police racing to halt a frenzied attack that had already injured seven people.
It's a snapshot of a time when Samsudeen was teetering on the edge, seemingly grasping for purchase while sliding towards the ugly violence that left him shot dead on a supermarket floor in Auckland's New Lynn.
He came here in 2011 physically scarred and psychologically damaged. It was a journey that began with an application for a student visa in July that year but, by his account, his feet were set on a path to somewhere, anywhere, years earlier.
Samsudeen was once a Sri Lankan boy whose father was a school principal and whose mother stayed home to raise their four children while running a small business.
They lived on the Eastern coast of the island, where it's hot all year round with long white beaches and palm trees. His parents were involved and respected citizens in their city, and it was this which made his father important to Tamil militant Colonel Karuna Amman.
This is the story Samsudeen told Immigration NZ and later the Immigration and Protection Tribunal, which described his story as "superficially unsatisfactory" but credible.
Where Karuna went, there were massacres. The 26-year Sri Lankan civil war with Tamil separatists - and Samsudeen was a Tamil Muslim - was bloody with as many as 100,000 deaths.
Karuna held a senior military role with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and it was this brought him into Samsudeen's life even before he was born. When Samsudeen sought refugee status, he told how his father refused to allow Karuna to hide weapons at his school. It was apparently a refusal that led to the family suffering a lifetime of violent harassment, even after Karuna laid down arms to join Sri Lanka's ruling party, rising to become a Minister in government.
The harassment began with grenades through the windows of the family home and persisted for decades. Samsudeen talked of the last of those incidents in which he claimed he was kidnapped with his father, held for days and tortured.
"He was stripped and photographed in front of his father," the Immigration and Protection Tribunal recounted his testimony. "He was cut, burnt with cigarettes and beaten unconscious."
Samsudeen told of going into hiding, of men hunting for him and his family's decision he must leave Sri Lanka. At that point, he was the last of his siblings to leave the country.
His application for a student visa was lodged in July 2011 and approved in September 2011 after a National Security check raised no concerns. He arrived a month later, knowing no one, and almost instantly sought refugee status, was declined, then appealed.
Psychologist Amanda McFadden met with him for six hours to assess his mental health. She described him as a "highly distressed and damaged young man". He was diagnosed as suffering from PTSD and there was "strong evidence" he was experiencing, over and again, previous traumatic events.
His case to the Tribunal was that if he were returned to Sri Lanka, he would be in serious danger. He had tried running and hiding inside the country with limited success. It always ended in pain and terror. In December 2013, the Tribunal accepted his story.
In January 2014, living in central Auckland, Samsudeen applied for permanent residency, prompting fresh police checks. The NZ Security Intelligence Service carried out a second background check and again no issues were raised. In April 2014, residency was approved.
Lonely, sick and slipping away
In the years to come, volumes of paperwork would be built on Samsudeen's short time in New Zealand. Most of it would focus on those years beyond his residency, on that point where he was slipping away from everyone around him.
And there were few who were around him. Those volumes of evidence described a young man, unsettled and mentally unwell, who was isolated and lonely after arriving in a country where he knew no one.
There are those who came to know him through worship at an Auckland mosque in 2015 and 2016. They have asked that the mosque - or masjid - not be named for fear of reprisals or taint through Samsudeen's act of terror.
They speak of it as a place of peace, largely frequented by young worshippers drawn from nearby academic institutions.
The masjid knew its community and sought to bond it through activities that made the most of what New Zealand had to offer. Groups of young men, sometimes 50 or more, would set over on adventures more social than religious, heading for the beaches, bush and islands around Auckland.
There were signs Samsudeen wanted to engage, that he sought comfort in company. During Ramadan, the month-long festival of fasting and worship, the masjid lacked an oven so Samsudeen provided one from his apartment. On a camp at Motutapu Island, he stepped forward to carry out chores for someone who was injured.
He got involved, relished the company and the adventures but was either unable to, or shied away from, forming specific bonds or close friendships with individuals. "He would like to speak to everyone, it didn't matter what country they were from," said one man.
Beyond that, "most of the time he was in his apartment. He was online, or playing games". At this time, Samsudeen wasn't studying, and working at times at a kebab shop.
They don't recall him speaking of his family, and - not unusual for those who have suffered trauma - avoided speaking of his past.
It was around this time Samsudeen began speaking of Islamic State. It wasn't in the nature of sounding out sympathisers, said one man from continental Central Asia, but akin to his occasionally clumsy attempts at humour.
In social gatherings, he recalled Samsudeen cracking jokes, some of which were just bad. It was the awkwardness of someone not socially aware, reaching for a connection, and falling short.
That man recalls how "sometimes he's funny, sometimes a bit sad", and how those who spent time with him would think "mentally there might be a disturbance in the past".
And on those occasions when he spoke of Islamic State, it alarmed others to the extent they pushed back. "He learned everything online. None of us agreed with his belief," said one man. "I tried to convince him. We thought he was only talking and in the long run would not be harmful."
There was also a keen awareness of the scrutiny placed on young Muslim men. "We knew it wasn't safe for us," the man said.
He tried, as others did, to tell Samsudeen how the views he raised didn't fit with Islamic teachings. Samsudeen's grasp of Islam was not deep, he said, which meant he didn't have sufficient knowledge to see how far the terror group's endorsements were from the faith.
For Samsudeen, his isolation, mental health issues and social discomfort made him prime material for Islamic State. Massey University's Dr John Battersby - a specialist in counter-terrorism and terrorism - described the weaponisation of social media as an "Isis innovation".
In this, it had trumped Al Qaeda. Osama Bin Laden's motivation for September 11 was, in part, to create such an extraordinary spectacle that it would compel a focus on his motives. It worked - but he was always subject to someone else editing what he put out to the world.
A decade later Islamic State recognised the power of social media. It became the storyteller and editor, seeding the world with imagery associated with injustice, power, revolution. Some of those seeds found fertile ground.
"They can't control who picks up on it. It becomes whoever, wherever, picks up on it."
Later, Samsudeen would be a focus of study for Australian National University criminologist Dr Clarke Jones, whose research into violent extremism, terrorism and radicalisation led him to provide testimony at one court hearing.
"If he's alone, marginalised, isolated, he will seek stronger attachments. He probably saw Islamic State as a position of strength."
Police became aware of Samsudeen's interest in violent extremism in March 2016, having been told of a Facebook account on which he had shared graphic war-related violence and made comments enthusing over Islamic State-inspired attacks in Paris and Brussels.
He was spoken to twice, and warned. Samsudeen apologised, saying he had shut down the account after researching the law. Yet his browser history showed a fascination that persisted through June as he monitored news reports about Imran Patel, found guilty that month over distributing extremist videos.
Samsudeen was back on Facebook in June 2016 under the name Aathill Ahmed and set up two other accounts in the months that followed. Those were discovered by police in October, revealing photographs and videos with a common theme - oppression of Muslims.
By now, police and NZSIS staff began closely monitoring Samsudeen. His friends at the mosque were approached, meeting in coffee shops around central Auckland with affable, friendly men. They wanted to know if there were others who spoke as Samsudeen did, where he went and who he kept company with.
"They wanted his improvement," said one man who met with investigators on multiple occasions. "But his belief was so strong."
The strongest expression of violence on Facebook from Samsudeen came in the form of a quote from Islamic State in an April 2017 post to Facebook. "I will fill the enemies with stabbing and cut off their heads violently."
A month later, May 20, police took action after Samsudeen booked next-day flights to Kuala Lumpur for himself and his visiting brother and sister-in-law. His one-way ticket included a connecting flight onwards to Singapore from where, authorities suspected, he would attempt to travel onward to Syria.
While detained, he was told police had a search warrant for his apartment. "Did they find a knife in my house?" he asked. "There's a knife in my house under my bed." They did - a 31cm hunting knife. Also found were digital storage cards with photographs of Samsudeen with a firearm, propaganda videos and links to online sales of guns, crossbows and military paraphernalia.
All Samsudeen had done caught up with him - possession of what police called "objectionable" publications and possession of the hunting knife, along with credit card fraud he had used to buy an iPhone and a watch.
In the year following, the charges relating to the "objectionable" publications were downgraded. The imagery found by police was graphic but included material published by Al Jazeera and the Daily Mail. It was R18 and unlawful to publish or share, but not illegal in itself. The knife charge was dropped after Samsudeen offered guilty pleas. By the time he was sentenced, he was found guilty of nothing to earn more jail time than already spent waiting for his day in court.
But at this point, in May 2017, the focus of the state was to take Samsudeen off the street and it achieved its aim for the 13 months that followed. It is possible that May 2017 was the point an opportunity was missed.
The assertion that everything that could be done had been done has been made repeatedly since the attack in New Lynn. There's also an argument that the iron fist wasn't the only option and that a velvet glove may have worked better.
As the saying goes, if all you have is a hammer then everything looks like a nail.
"He had, at that point, some hope of rehabilitation," says Australian National University's Jones.
Like others involved in Samsudeen's case, Jones has been doing a lot of reflecting over the past week.
When Samsudeen appeared for sentencing in September 2018, Jones provided evidence on the risk he posed and how to meet it. Having worked with those accused of being radicalised in Australia, Jones compared Samsudeen's case against those he had worked with or studied.
There was a contrast, he told the court, between those people and Samsudeen, who did not fit the profile of a young Muslim "radicalised because of his or her extreme religious views and political ambitions".
Instead, Jones considered Samsudeen had a "poor understanding of Islam" without "any sophistication or background in your knowledge of Islam". As such, he would be ideal for a "carefully designed, culturally sensitive and closely supervised intervention programme" in the Auckland Muslim community.
Jones had been brought in by lawyer Aarif Rasheed, founder of Just Community, an advocacy group for complex ethnic communities. Rasheed had also set up the Mizan Library, which offers original Islamic texts for study, and had provided some of those to Samsudeen.
As Jones says, his ideological perspective needed shifting and showing that violence is not Islam was part of that. Put a framework of genuine faith around Samsudeen and Islamic State falls away.
Rasheed was looking into developing the sort of intervention programme Jones said was needed. He had been talking to a Muslim community leader and creating a five-step process to pull Samsudeen back from the brink.
It didn't work out that way. A few months earlier, Samsudeen had been granted bail after the knife charge was dropped. There was no justification for keeping on remand someone facing minor fraud and restricted publication charges.
His initial sentencing date was August 7, cancelled after he sacked his lawyer, and instead he spent the day browsing the Hallensteins website for camouflaged trousers, and searching online various Islamic State references.
The following day, Samsudeen went to a hunting shop and paid $39 cash for a replacement hunting knife - the same 31cm knife confiscated when he was arrested a year early. He arranged to have it sent by courier because, as the shop attendant recalled he said, "he is a dark person and people might think he is a bad person".
Then, on August 9, he checked the tracking number of the courier delivery almost every hour of the day from 9am until he was arrested at 4.40pm. Police also found a throwing star and electronic devices with references to Islamic State, its anthems, knives and troubling videos. He was charged again.
This arrest was taken into account when Samsudeen was sentenced a month later on the earlier charges. There was no prison time to hand out - he had spent longer in prison than he was going to be sentenced - but it did see Justice Edwin Wylie attach "special conditions".
Those conditions mattered little. They are intended to help manage someone in the community but Samsudeen's new arrest had landed him back inside Mt Eden prison, the grim cell-block tower that rises beside the State Highway 1 Newmarket flyover.
Jones, the Australian expert on radicalisation, said: "The longer time he was going to be incarcerated, particularly with the 'high risk' label of terrorist offender, the more it was going to compound his mental health issues.
"There's lots of research about how these sorts of environments cause a whole range of mental health issues. If you expect someone to come out of these units as a corrected person, you've got no idea."
"What did you expect to happen when he was released into the community? What a joke!"
When considering Samsudeen, there's a need to adjust our current lens to view the world in the way we did prior to the shocking events of March 15 2019, when alt-right terrorist Brenton Tarrant killed 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch.
"Terrorism wasn't really part of our vocabulary," said Massey University sociologist Professor Paul Spoonley, who has studied terrorist movements. There were incidents over the years - the Whanganui Computer Centre bombing in 1982, Operation 8 in Te Urewera - but "we hadn't really engaged with the modern world where terrorism is an international phenomena".
It wasn't until Tarrant's murderous rampage and the Royal Commission that followed that a clear picture emerged of how poorly equipped New Zealand was to meet the threat of terrorism.
When the Royal Commission reported back, among its recommendations was the need for greater social cohesion, using a definition Spoonley helped create. That included a sense of community with trust in others, human rights and law. Equity of opportunities, involvement in civic and political life, and in social and community activities, recognition and respect of differences, confidence in public institutions.
Samsudeen had none of these, although interviews with friends - and psychologist reports to court - show at time he sought those connections.
And there were gaps, too, in measures to defuse threats. Deradicalisation - the means to pull someone back from the edge - was an unfamiliar or untested concept. "The closest we came to it was some of the programmes for gangs," Spoonley says.
Spoonley said casting comparison across the world shows New Zealand, at the time, was "way behind the start line on this".
"We are running very fast to catch up with what many parts of the Western world have had to deal with for some time."
In 2018, before Tarrant, as the Royal Commission pointed out, we were barely in the race.
Four years in prison
For all that Samsudeen spent four years in prison, he was never convicted of anything that carried a prison sentence.
Instead, he received two periods of court-ordered supervision with special conditions, usually considered a means of maintaining contact with someone who needs constant correction and guidance to stay out of trouble.
One of those periods was when he was in prison. The other was barely underway when he attacked people with a knife in New Lynn's Countdown.
From May 2017 to June 2018, Samsudeen was in Mt Eden's remand prison. He was out for six weeks then back there from September 2018 through to June 2020.
Former prison inmate and newly-minted author Arthur Taylor spent 38 years in prison, including a few months in Mt Eden cells in 2018.
He describes it as sparse and designed for short-term stays. Windows don't open, ventilation is poor. When it's hot, Mt Eden prison is boiling. When it's cold, the cell is an icebox. Meals are served in cells, on plastic, and usually luke-warm. Amenities are few, books hard to come by and with a 19-inch television available for rent at $2 a week - if you have money.
"You might get let out (of your cell) to the yard an hour a day. I call it being moved to a bigger cell." The exercise yard is a concrete pad with a mesh roof. "Unless the sun is at the right angle, you don't see any sunlight."
Taylor speaks bluntly: "If he wasn't a nutcase when he went in, he would have been when he came out."
Samsudeen was moved from Mt Eden prison after an assault on two guards. He spent the next year through to July 2021 in the maximum security Auckland Prison's "extreme risk" wing where Tarrant is housed. If anything, it is a bleaker existence.
At the time Immigration NZ was searching for ways to get him out of the country and to have him locked up until that happened. Police searches of his laptop had found evidence he had "manufactured written statements from family members in support of his claim and embellished a medical report to align with his claims".
If true, it was grounds to cancel his refugee status. Immigration lawyer Simon Laurent, who has handled hundreds of refugee claims, says false information - while bad faith on an applicant's part - doesn't necessarily discount the truth behind the claims.
"People who are claiming refugee status, they will do whatever it takes to secure their safety because it's a life or death situation."
Testimony from family still in the country needs to be considered in the context of the situation the applicant claims to have fled, he says. "The fact New Zealand authorities approached family of a recognised refugee raises grave concerns on my part."
Immigration NZ also relied on Samsudeen being found guilty of particular charges laid by police. The High Court had thrown out charges of planning a terrorist act, saying the law on which police relied was broken. It meant it would have to test the evidence afresh rather than rely on proof of a conviction, removing the possibility of a quick exit.
Just before Samsudeen's release on July 16, Immigration NZ reviewed Samsudeen's file. If it found updated information from Sri Lanka, the outcome of the High Court trial and associated media reporting meant Samsudeen would "highly likely" be a "protected person" under the Immigration Act. By law, and international covenant, New Zealand cannot deport someone to a country where they would likely suffer harm.
There was nothing to keep him inside or to throw him out of the country.
In one of Samsudeen's final court hearings, a probation officer provided the High Court with a report that explained who they were releasing into the community.
Samsudeen, the court was told, held "extreme attitudes" and had an "isolated lifestyle" along with a " sense of entitlement and propensity for violence". It was said he supported the goals and methods of Islamic State, by now a faded power on the world stage.
The chance of offending again was high, the court was told. Justice Sally Fitzgerald said to him: "It suggests that you have the means and motivation to commit violent acts in the community and, despite not having violently offended to date, as posing a very high risk of harm to others."
Aathill Samsudeen, who played football with friends in the sand under the sun on Auckland's West Coast, was released with no indication he was a better man than when sent to prison.
After four years in the custody of the state, in the care of a prison system that has "Corrections" in its name, he went home and did what he had never before done. He took a knife, called out the name of a God he didn't understand, and tried to kill people.
Everybody did what they could inside the system as it is. As the Prime Minister said, the system worked right down to the end.
Counter-terrorism expert Battersby says of the close police surveillance and weapons support; "There has never been a 60 second takedown in the history of these kind of attacks."