Verity McLean seemed to be “good as gold” when she spoke to a friend around lunch time on Anzac Day.
Hours later, the Invercargill mother of three was shot dead in a double shooting at an industrial property.
Now, devastated friends and members of the community are left trying to piece together what happened.
It is understood she was in a relationship with Garry Duggan, who suffered several gunshot wounds in the attack at the property they were living at, on Otepuni Ave in the suburb of Newfield.
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The truck driver, who is in his 40s, managed to phone emergency services at 8.19pm on Tuesday. He is understood to be in a stable condition in Dunedin Hospital.
Verity’s husband, Ben McLean – who also suffered injuries during the incident – handed himself in at Invercargill Police Station 40 minutes later.
He was admitted to Southland hospital, and at a bedside court hearing on Wednesday he was charged with Verity’s murder and the attempted murder of Duggan.
Verity’s sister, who also lives in the Southland town, declined to comment when approached at home.
But friends paint a picture of Verity as a “lovely lady” who was a “caring, happy, great mum”.
Phil Brocks, who owns the property where the shooting occurred, said he had been in contact with Ben, Garry and Verity over the past few weeks.
“I was talking to Verity yesterday, and it was about lunch time. She was good as gold,” he said.
“I am close to Ben, but I have been friends with Garry for a long time and he’s a really great guy.”
Another acquaintance of the McLeans, who did not want to be named, said she had been friends with the couple “for years”.
“To me they were just a role-model family. I am sad for everyone involved,” she said.
“At the end of the day I don’t know what’s happened.
“They are just lovely people and it’s just devastating for everyone involved.”
A BEDSIDE COURT HEARING
Ben McLean was wearing a grey t-shirt and white trousers when a bedside court hearing took place on Wednesday afternoon at Southland Hospital. He had no visible injuries.
He made no plea to murdering Verity McLean and the attempted murder of Duggan. He was remanded in custody to May 18.
He and Verity have three children under the age of 20.
He graduated from the Royal New Zealand Police College in Porirua on December 18, 2007, before starting work in Invercargill a few weeks later.
McLean has been part of the Southern District policing team since. He has worked on road policing cases and road safety campaigns.
He previously worked as an administrator for Geographic Information Systems.
McLean owns two semi-rural neighbouring properties in the suburb of Tisbury. One of the properties was listed as the couple’s residential address.
His mother, Mary, lives next door.
When asked what might have led to the shooting, his mother said, “It’s a very, very long story”.
“I’m holding up OK, I’ve got a lot of friends and family.”
She did not know how her son was.
‘UP TO NO GOOD’
While it’s unclear what happened in the hours leading up to the incident, resident Terry Brown said he saw a man cycling on Otepuni Ave earlier in the evening who seemed to be “up to no good”.
“I set eyes on him and got suspicious of him.”
Brown said the man stopped his bicycle near the train tracks on Lindisfarne St and changed clothes.
“He took his jacket off and then put another one on. Then biked down Otepuni Avenue.”
Brown said the clothes he wore were dark brown, or black.
“I was so sure that he was up to no good.”
Police were seen searching nearby properties and vehicles.
A witness saw an ambulance rushing to the area.
A COMMUNITY IN SHOCK
Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt said he was contacted by the police and informed about what had happened.
“People are just quite shattered and devastated by what’s happened,” Shadbolt said.
“Of course being a relatively small and tight-knit community, a lot of people know several of the people involved and I think that makes it a lot harder for everyone.”
Shadbolt said he was satisfied the police would be able to do their job properly.
“In the outline that was given to me, the procedure from now on certainly indicated to me that they would be taking all the action necessary to resolve this matter.”
At a media briefing on Wednesday night, Southern District Commander, Superintendent Paul Basham said the town’s community, including police, were “shocked and dismayed” by the incident.
“This is obviously a huge tragedy for everyone involved. We are dealing with three different families who are affected,” Basham said.
“We are also supporting police staff … who are naturally very shocked and dismayed at what has taken place.”
Basham promised a thorough, impartial investigation. Senior investigators – Detective Inspector Steve Wood from Dunedin and Detective Superintendent Peter Read from Canterbury – were in Invercargill to help lead the inquiry.
“I fully understand the shock this incident has caused … while devastating, this is a one-off event and we cannot recall a similar tragedy like this in recent times to allegedly involve a serving police officer.”
A firearm was recovered at the scene. Basham would not say what kind of gun it was, but said it was not a police issue weapon.
He asked anyone with information to come forward to help police “piece together” what happened.
“Obviously Invercargill is a pretty tight community.”
Ballistic forensic specialists would reconstruct what happened, including the number of shots fired, he said.