Wendy Campbell and her daughter Natanya went to a remote Northland home yesterday morning to carry out repairs.
Within hours, they'd been shot dead, the rental property they manage was burned to the ground, and contractor Jeff Pipe was in hospital with gunshot wounds.
• The moment the only survivor escapes
Last night Campbell's grieving husband, Tony Rodgers, was being consoled by a community pastor and family friends at the Whangarei home the couple shared.
"Tony is devastated," a family friend told the Herald. "We don't know much, Tony doesn't know much about what happened."
The friend said Campbell's body was still at the Whareora property and Rodgers had not visited the scene.
The body of her daughter, who was in her 30s and from a previous relationship, is also believed to be there.
Campbell, who had recently celebrated her 60th birthday, and Natanya had gone to the rural Mt Tiger Rd address with Pipe to "do some maintenance, some repair work".
It was a standard part of Campbell's job - she and Rodgers manage Seek n Find Property Management in Whangarei.
She had more than 10 years' experience as a property manager, mostly in New Zealand but she had also worked on the Sunshine Coast.
By 10.50am what should have been a routine inspection had turned deadly.
Multiple shots had been fired. Campbell and Natanya were killed.
Pipe was also shot but he survived.
He managed to escape in a red Suzuki, which appeared to have bullet holes in the windscreen, and drove out of the gravel driveway and along the road to a cordon that had already been set up by armed police.
Pipe was guided into a waiting ambulance and this morning was in a stable condition at Whangarei Hospital and able to communicate with loved ones.
While details of what triggered the shooting remain unclear, police can confirm they knew who the gunman was and tried to negotiate with him throughout the afternoon.
Northland District Commander Superintendent Russell Le Prou said they fired tear gas into the home but the gunman fired several shots back.
Police returned fire. Soon after the exchange, thick dark smoke started to billow from the house and before long it was "fully engulfed" in flames.
Le Prou said police believed the man was still at the house at the time and it was "very unlikely" he had survived.
They would not release any information about him last night.
Neighbour Michael Jordan, who lives about 100m away, told the Herald the home was occupied by a man he described as a "loner".
"All I know is, the guy, that I presume is the one responsible for the shooting, has been living there for years. I think he rented it. I don't know him that well, we used to stop and talk every so often. He kept to himself, I don't really know him that well. He's a bit of a loner really."
Jordan believed more than one person may have been living there, but he only ever saw one man at the property.
He did not believe the man had a wife or children at the home.
"He actually drove past, going to town, and he tooted and waved," Jordan said of one meeting.
"We're on a rural road, so it's not like we're in the middle of town."
Jordan said the man would probably be in his mid-50s.
"From what I know he's the one responsible, but until we hear all the facts I wouldn't know."
He said he heard gunshots recently and on Sunday, but added he didn't think anything of it given the rural setting.
Jordan said he only arrived home just past 6pm yesterday after the cordon had been lifted, and was not home when the shooting unfolded.
Cordons were lifted just before 6pm and the armed offenders squad left the scene about the same time.
However, the razed property remains under a cordon that is expected to last for days while scene examinations are conducted.
"We still have a number of inquiries to make to begin to understand the tragedy that has unfolded today," Le Prou said.
"Police will do everything we can to support the victims' families.
"Our community will be understandably shocked by the events but Northland is a tight-knit community and will stand together to support one another," he said.
- Additional reporting: Sam Hurley
Rural nightmare hits 'out of the blue'
The shooting that left Whangarei reeling yesterday was shocking and totally out of character for the city, mayor Sheryl Mai said.
"It's come completely out of the blue. And it's just every resident's worst nightmare to think you're going about your business and the next minute your family has lost you - it's an absolute tragedy.
"The full circumstances haven't yet been revealed so we're in the dark about a number of aspects to the case, but the reassuring thing is that nobody else is in any danger."
She had praise for emergency service workers. "It's in a crisis like this that we really see the strength of emergency services working together, from police, fire, Civil Defence, Red Cross and the wider community all pulling together to make sure everybody's as safe as they can be."
Police cordoned off a 17km stretch of the steep, winding road, leaving shell-shocked residents unable to get home.
At least 24 families from Mt Tiger Rd, Wrack Rd and Owhiwa Rd waited at a welfare centre at Whareora Hall, set up by emergency services, for the cordon to be lifted.
Mt Tiger Rd resident Christine Fifield said she was "shaken up" when she heard of the shooting, and residents first feared the gunman was on the loose.
"It's a bit close to home. I've got animals I need to see to and knowing the area, it's a huge area to search to look for [the offender]."
Others gathered in the pub, where talk was much more subdued than usual. Duty manager Tom Donelley described the atmosphere as "a little bit eerie".
Locals were shocked, he said. They were keen to get to their homes and families but saddened by the knowledge at least two lives had been lost.
Speaking to the Northern Advocate at 5.15pm, Donelley said no one had any idea what had unfolded at the scene or who the victims were.
He said there was only minor speculation about the gunman.
"No one can figure out who it is."
Talk of the shooting had "been the hot topic of the day", said Hannah Sawford, from nearby Parua Bay Service Station. Customers' initial annoyance at the road closures turned to shock over the shootings.