OPINION: What happened in Ashburton on Monday will reverberate throughout the country for a long time to come.
The tragedy could have been straight out of American television. Homeless man Russell John Tully, known as John, allegedly walked into the small town's Work and Income office and shot the receptionist in the chest at close range before shooting dead a second employee and critically wounding another. He then walked out, got on a bicycle and rode away.
Understandably the whole town went into lock-down mode, with schools keeping children in, people told to stay indoors and armed police searching the area for the gunman. Tully was arrested after seven hours and taken into custody. The idea that a New Zealander can go to work and not go home again because a desperate person murders them is still a foreign concept to most of us. Ours is not a gun culture, although many of us have access to guns for sport or on the farm, so the use of firearms while committing a crime is still newsworthy. To murder innocent employees just trying to do their jobs sent shockwaves throughout New Zealand.
It is obvious Tully had major problems. He had been flatting but fell out with a flatmate and left. He appealed to Work and Income for help but his behaviour led to the department issuing a trespass notice against him. He appealed to the mayor and to the media, without success. A social housing group found him temporary accommodation but then had to issue him with a trespass notice.
Here was an angry, sick man. He came home from Australia "to die", he said, and he wanted to die in his hometown. Unfortunately, there was nothing available there that he could afford and even when offered help he was apparently unable to control himself enough to make it safe for others to house him.
For those who knew or met him recently, the murders have come as a huge shock. A school friend described him as "a fun kind of guy. A big bloke".
A journalist who interviewed him said she had 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."
It is difficult to imagine how desperate someone could become that he felt it was OK to take the lives of those who had been trying to help him. It was not the fault of Work and Income staff there was nothing available. They can only follow the rules as set down by their employers.
New Plymouth Work and Income staff would have felt sickened and vulnerable after the deadly attack on their Ashburton colleagues and understandably were taking no chances when one agitated caller showed extremely poor taste in saying "I see now why people come in and shoot you guys".
Understandably police were notified and the office temporarily closed. One shooting tragedy in this country on any given day is more than enough.
- Taranaki Daily News
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