'A loner with a lot of money' - A look into the Christchurch mosque gunman's past

8:49 am on 24 August 2020

Warning: this story includes distressing details of the 15 March mosque terrorism attacks.

It's 1.28pm on a still and warm Christchurch Friday.

Al Noor Mosque is strewn with flowers and offerings honouring the victims of the terror attack there.

Al Noor Mosque is strewn with flowers and offerings honouring the victims of the terror attack there. Photo: RNZ / Alex Perrottet

An almost entirely unknown 28 year old, who in coming days will be referred to in the most banal of terms in light of his actions - traveller, gym junkie, computer nerd - is sitting in his parked Subaru Outback in Leslie Hills Drive.

He is typing up his final post to the toxic online world of 8Chan.

"Well lads, it's time to stop shitposting and time to make a real life effort post.

"I will carry out and [sic] attack against the invaders, and will even live stream the attack via facebook."

The message is accompanied by a link to his Facebook profile and a 74-page 'manifesto'.

His actions over the next half-hour will make Brenton Harrison Tarrant arguably New Zealand's most reviled figure.

The shooting of more than 90 innocent worshippers on 15 March 2019 shocks the world.

Many people will not support our decision to tell this story, in fact many will be angered at us mentioning his name. But, while not seeking to glorify the killer's actions, we believe it is appropriate to try to understand him.

The story of Tarrant's descent from a quiet blonde-haired Aussie boy to New Zealand's first convicted terrorist is far more prosaic than the atrocity which brought him to global attention.

Born on 27 October 1990 to Rodney and Sharon Tarrant in Grafton, about 500 kilometres north of Sydney in regional New South Wales, he was the youngest of two siblings.

His father, a garbage collector, and his mother, a teacher, were well-respected in the community and the wider Tarrant family was well-known in the surrounding Clarence Valley area.

His parents separated before he was a teenager, but his cousin Donna Cox told 7News there was nothing in the family's background to suggest Tarrant would one day become the perpetrator of one of the world's deadliest mass shootings.

"He was never raised like that, in that sort of environment, you know? There was no violence. No family's perfect, but certainly nothing like that," she said.

He attended Grafton High School. But there was nothing remarkable about his schooling years.

He tried rugby league. But, again, he was unexceptional.

He suffered bullying at the hands of his peers.

"There was a time when he was picked on pretty badly. Grafton can be a pretty harsh place ... so if you're overweight and a bit what some people might call useless on the field, you're going to probably get picked on," junior rugby league teammate Daniel Tuite told The Australian.

Brenton Tarrant, the man charged in relation to the mosque shootings in Christchurch massacre, in the dock at Christchurch District Court for his first appearance on 16 March.

At the High Court in Christchurch in March, Brenton Tarrant admitted 51 counts of murder, 40 of attempted murder and one under the Terrorism Suppression Act. Photo: Supplied / Pool

Tuite said even back then Tarrant kept to himself.

After high school he landed a job at Big River Gym in his hometown. He worked there from 2009 until 2011.

The gym's manager, Tracey Gray, said Tarrant was dedicated to physical fitness.

"He would train a lot, and some could say quite excessively, but then he was passionate about health and fitness and making those changes in his personal space."

Fitness was a passion he shared with his father Rodney, an avid runner and triathlete.

In 2010, Rodney died at age 49 following a diagnosis of mesothelioma - an aggressive and deadly form of cancer.

According to all accounts Rodney and his son were close, and many speculated it was the loss of his father that started the younger Tarrant's descent.

Wandering the world, looking for purpose

About a year after his father's death Tarrant introduced himself to Aussie Stock Forums, saying he had came into the ownership of about $500,000.

"Recently came into contact with a bit of capital due to the passing away of my father.

"Really don't want to lose the money as he paid for it with 30+ years of his life," his introductory post said.

He asked for investment and life advice from those on the forum.

"You need to change your whole vibe, IMO," one user later told him.

"Based on what you're saying, you have no self-confidence or self-respect, but it's those very attitudes that are needed for success in any endeavour."

Tarrant responded: "My self respect is through the roof, I can truly do anything I put my mind to."

"I am a goddamn monster of willpower, I just need a goal or object to work towards."

Brenton Tarrant, the man responsible for the 15 March mosque terrorism attacks, in Pakistan.

Brenton Tarrant in Pakistan. Photo: Supplied

On the forum he mulled joining the Australian Defence Force, getting into the real estate industry, or even operating some kind of Australia-wide online brothel.

None of it came to fruition.

Most of his posts were flippant and it seems by August he still had not found a goal or objective.

His calls for advice - financial or otherwise - ended.

Soon after Tarrant began to travel the world.

He visited vast swathes of Asia and Europe.

It appeared he was particularly interested in the countries which had sat on the shifting borders between the Ottoman Empire and Europe during the late medieval and early modern eras.

He visited many sites of historical battles between European nations and the Turkish caliphate.

His grandmother, Marie Fitzgerald, told 9News she believed those travels had changed him.

"It's only since he travelled overseas I think that boy has changed - completely to the boy we knew."

A recluse in New Zealand's south

Around August 2017 he moved to Dunedin, by which time - according to himself - he had already decided on carrying out some kind of extremist attack.

He claimed New Zealand was initially intended as only a training ground, but a month later he applied for a New Zealand firearms licence.

In October 2017 he was interviewed at his Somerville Street home by a vetting officer and a month later granted the licence.

Soon after he started stockpiling firearms and ammunition.

Neighbours of his Andersons Bay duplex flat said any interactions with Tarrant were brief and unremarkable.

He was polite, but kept to himself and no one recalled any other vehicles or people coming or going from the flat.

From early 2018 he practiced shooting at the Bruce Rifle Club, just out of Milton - about 50 kilometres south of Dunedin.

He was also a member of a South Dunedin gym.

A staff member described him as a "loner with a lot of money, but no job".

His membership was paid in full and put on hold in October 2018 as he took his final trip overseas.

He visited Pakistan, spending time in the north of the country along the border with Afghanistan.

His social media from the time suggested he also visited parts of Europe during the trip.

According to The Australian, his mother and her partner visited him around Christmas 2018.

She found him living in "hermit-like isolation" in uninviting conditions. There were not even sheets on his bed.

Marie Fitzgerald later recalled her daughter's details of the visit for The Sydney Morning Herald.

"They just thought he was in a bad place then because he got the guns out of the car and showed them that he had guns. If your son does things like that you think 'My God'. He said he was in a rifle club or something. It wasn't the best thing to be in but he had to occupy his time somehow.

"They never told me for ages [upon their return] that he wasn't in a good place. The place he had, there was no place for visitors. Sharon felt that he was in the wrong state of mind."

On 9 January 2019 he renewed his Subaru Outback's licence online, but he only paid for two months registration, though until 16 March 2019 perhaps indicating he had an end date in mind.

The day before the 15 March attacks he posted links on his Facebook profile to 43 different articles, videos and webpages which collectively give a glimpse into his hateful, racist and distorted anti-immigrant worldview, posting similar content to Twitter on the same day.

He also changed his profile picture to a meme of an Australian 'ocker' brandishing a beer bottle with the words "Hold still while I glass you" written across the image. A meme popular among a group of Australian white supremacists on Twitter.

'New Zealand's darkest day'

On 15 March 2019, firearms and ammunition packed into his Subaru Outback along with canisters of fuel, he made the 360km trip north to Christchurch.

On that afternoon he sent final farewells to his mother and his coterie of anonymous online acquaintances.

According to The Australian, he messaged his mother to tell her she would read and hear terrible things about him, but he had decided on his purpose and it was no reflection on her.

Just how alone he was at that moment was exemplified in his last message to 8chan.

"It's been a long ride and ... you are all top blokes and the best bunch of cobbers a man could ask for," Tarrant posted.

His friends were faceless, his interactions existent only in cyberspace.

At 1.33pm he began livestreaming to his Facebook profile.

Tarrant drove the short distance around the block from Leslie Hills Drive, in an industrial estate in the suburb of Riccarton - east of Christchurch's central city, to Deans Avenue where Al Noor Mosque is located.

At 1.36pm, he pulled to the side of the road only a few hundred metres from the mosque. He sat there for just over a minute before saying "All right, time's up", pulling back into the traffic and continuing towards the mosque.

At 1.40pm he approached the front door armed with a shotgun and semi-automatic rifle, and opened fire.

Six minutes later he left for Linwood Mosque to continue his attack.

In just 15 minutes 49 people were dead.

Soon after another died in Christchurch Hospital, and in the weeks following the toll rose to 51.

Forty more were wounded but survived.

Their stories will be heard over the coming days as New Zealand's first convicted terrorist is held to account for his horrific actions 529 days ago.

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