NO WARNING SIGN: Australian shooter Brenton Tarrant pictured as a small boy with his father Rodney Tarrant, who died in 2010 at the age of 49.
NO WARNING SIGN: Australian shooter Brenton Tarrant pictured as a small boy with his father Rodney Tarrant, who died in 2010 at the age of 49. Supplied

How a boy turned into a monster

A SCHOOLMATE of the Grafton-born right-wing extremist arrested over a callous terrorist attack which claimed the lives of 50 people said the gunman was "a follower" in his school years.

The former classmate, who wished to remain anonymous, said he was a quiet and polite student but tended to be a "follower" and believed he had "turned during his travels".

The 28-year-old, who appeared in Christchurch District Court on Saturday charged with murder after opening fire in a brutal and cunning attack on two mosques, was once a Grafton High School student, who spent his formative years in our community, and "passionately" helped kids in his role as a fitness instructor.

Brenton Tarrant's appearance in court was brief but highlighted his acute understanding of how to stoke worldwide attention; with a smirk on his face that the Judge ordered be blurred, he took the photo opportunity and flashed a symbol used by white supremacist groups.

Tarrant's extensive manifesto was strategically sent to media outlets and the New Zealand Prime Minister's office minutes before his vile act of murder by intricate design.

It has been quoted by media outlets the world over, written in question and answer format, Tarrant presumed the questions journalists would inevitably ask.

He predicted the story the world would be searching for.

He knew how to manipulate social media and technology to garner the most possible attention.

The live-streamed footage of the attack which quickly spread to several platforms resembled video games played by millions, a first-person point of view shot so many would be accustomed to seeing animated on a screen.

Tarrant's victims were innocent worshippers, one as young as three-years-old, in a place of what should have been safety and tranquillity.

His attack was one of fearful and reactionary hate against residents of Christchurch, a city known for its strength and unity.

Former colleagues and classmates interviewed by Australian media have said the young boy with curly blonde hair they knew so many years ago, was an outsider, but could never imagine what he would become.

International media have hounded Grafton since the massacre, as the birthplace and former home of the gunman.

He was a personal trainer in Grafton at Big River Squash and Fitness Centre, whose manager Tracy Gray confirmed he had worked there from 2009 to 2011 and "never showed any extremist views".

"He always seemed to embody the philosophies of the fitness industry; that we are inclusive, and we accept all shapes and sizes and all fitness abilities, and we are here to help people," Ms Gray told The Sydney Morning Herald.

"He worked in our program that offered free training to kids in the community, and he was very passionate about that.

"He left because he had a desire to travel.

"I think something must have changed in him during the years he spent travelling overseas."

It seemed it was Tarrant's international travel, to countries including France, Spain, Pakistan and Turkey which had altered his world view. He stated in his manifesto that his views changed dramatically between April and May 2017.

Reports have said Tarrant lived in New Zealand on and off for several years and was living in Dunedin before the massacre.

He was a member of the Bruce Rifle Club in Milburn, where he had trained with various firearms.

"I think we're feeling a bit stunned and shocked and a bit betrayed, perhaps, that we've had this person in our club who has ended up doing these horrible things," said club president Scott Williams told The Otago Times.

"He was always there helping out with any work that was needed around the club, or when it came to set up or pack down the range," he said.

His father Rodney was beloved by the community and remembered as a "dedicated family man" after he passed in 2010 from pleural mesothelioma, a cancer in the lungs caused by exposure to asbestos.

In 1991, the family travelled to Hawaii, so Rodney, who competed in 75 marathons, could fulfil his dream of competing in the Hawaiian Ironman Triathlon.