Friends of missing expat New Zealander Gordon Tearonui Hamm are trying to remain positive despite police fears the former Waikato man was killed after being abducted and assaulted by two gun-wielding men in coastal Victoria last week.
Hamm's predicament was made public only on Sunday, when police revealed the 34-year-old from Taumarunui was missing after being subjected to a pre-planned attack that was overheard by residents in the tiny seaside hamlet of Nelson, 4km from the South Australian border.
They told police they heard a woman scream about 4am on Wednesday morning, about the time two four-wheel-drive vehicles boxed in her car on a bridge crossing the Glenelg River.
Hamm, a passenger in the car, was dragged on to the bridge and taken at gunpoint to a nearby playground, where he was beaten.
The woman was told by the men to flee the scene and complied. She has assisted police with their investigation.
Police found traces of blood on the bridge and it is believed a shot was also fired, but it is unclear whether Hamm was struck by the bullet. The beige sheepskin boots he was wearing at the time of the kidnapping were found in the playground.
A search of the area has not found any sign of Hamm, who was reportedly involved in the drug scene where he lived in Mt Gambier and across the state boundary in Victoria.
Police fear he has been murdered, though friends on both sides of the Tasman are holding out hope that he will be found alive.
Hamm was described as "a very well-mannered, respectful, good young man" by Liza Brown on Facebook.
"Things seem bleak, but please god, bring Gordon safely home to his family," she wrote.
Her thoughts were echoed by Jaya Hicks, who posted: "Gordon was a kind, honest and gentle person despite what he was involved in. I pray he will returned home."
Cherylea Hepi said his hometown in the King Country was braced for the worst.
"His family and whole town are mourning for one of their own . . . may God prevail and bring our Gordy home.
"He played representative touch and rugby for our province and was a real hard case.
Everyone loved Gordie and the whole town new [sic] him. He went to Ozzie to follow a dream like many young New Zealanders and somewhere along the line it has all gone wrong."
Detective Inspector John Potter, of Victoria homicide squad, said while police were unsure whether he had been shot at the scene he was assaulted at and had suffered "potentially fatal injuries".
Hamm had lived in Mt Gambier, 450km southeast of Adelaide, for about three years.
An unnamed acquaintance said Hamm had racked up debts with drug syndicates and was considering leaving the area for New Zealand.
"He said he should go home but then he reckoned it would all be OK, he was naive as to what was going on around him," the acquaintance said.