The man shot execution-style at his Gate Pa home did not deserve to die the way he did, and "would not hurt a fly", his cousin says.
Detective Inspector Lew Warner, head of the investigation, said, after extensive inquiries over the past three months, it is now believed that 52-year-old David Rawiri Kuka's murder on February 11 was a case of "mistaken identity".
Kuka was found with a serious head injury at his Wilrose Place home and died at 11.15pm, soon after emergency services arrived.
Self-employed master carver James Tapiata, from Te Puna, said Kuka was of Ngai Te Rangi and Ngati Porou descent. Kuka's late mother and Tapiata's father were cousins.
"David was a tough nut and hard-out bro type of person and very determined when he believed something was right, but he was someone who would not hurt a fly," he said.
"His death was a real shock and so unexpected. David did not deserve to die the way he did. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the wrong person, that's for sure."
As a young boy, Kuka was brought up on Matakana Island by his grandmother before he settled in Greerton. He went to Greerton School and Tauranga Boys' College.
"David's older brother and I are the same age and his young brother is now my brother-in-law. So we had a close family connection all our lives," Tapiata said.
Tapiata described Kuka as a private person and a passionate carver who he had helped to mentor in the skill over the years.
That included Kuka working with him on a huge carving for the meeting house at Tauranga Boys' College, a project of real pride for his late cousin, he said.
"David was a gifted carver and some of the carvings he helped work on with me are now overseas in places like America, Japan, Singapore, Dubai and Malaysia," he said.
"David's dream was to make a fleet of canoes to be made available to teach young people the pros and cons of sailing waka."
Kuka is survived by his four children.
Detective Warner said Kuka, who he described as a quiet family man and a Christian, said he was last seen playing his guitar in his room a few hours before his murder.
His killing was believed to have happened about 10pm that day, he said.
Warner said Kuka had lived at the second hand shop for "some time" and had flatmates.
More than 100 people had been interviewed around the North Island, leading to the conclusion of mistaken identity, he said.
Warner said about 30 staff from Auckland, Whangamata, Counties Manukau, the Waikato, parts of the Central North Island and Eastern Bay of Plenty were involved in the inquiry.
There were "persons of interest in the inquiry" but police were keeping an open mind in regards to the offender or offenders.
Warner said Kuka's family desperately wanted to know the reason he was killed and were "quite distraught" about what happened to him.
"We need urgently people to come forward ... We want to do the right by David's family and history shows New Zealand police never let go until we get a result," Warner said.
Anyone who has any information including seeing a silver vehicle in the area on the night of the shooting around the relevant time should call police
Ring Tauranga police on 07 577 4300 or call the Crimestoppers line anonymously via 0800 555 111.