Self-proclaimed white nationalist Christchurch mosque shooter Brenton Harrison Tarrant is believed to have undergone a radical change during a backpacking odyssey that included trips to North Korea and Pakistan.
Overnight an extraordinary photograph emerged of Tarrant posing with a tour group visiting the Samjiyon Grand Monument in North Korea’s Ryanggang Province.
In the picture, a smiling Tarrant is seen crouching on one knee, looking like an ordinary tourist.
The 28-year-old Australian citizen living in Dunedin made a brief appearance in a New Zealand court this morning flanked by 11 security guards.
Tarrant has been accused of perpetrating the deadly shootings at two mosques that left 49 dead and a further 48 injured on Friday.
He has been charged with a single count of murder but is expected to face further charges as police investigations progress.
Tarrant, a former personal trainer who grew up in Grafton in northern New South Wales, is the son of a garbage collector father and English teacher mother.
The 28-year-old embarked on the trip sometime between 2011 and 2013 using money he inherited from his father Rodney’s 2010 death at 49 and investments made during the bitcoin gold rush.
“Recently came into contact with a bit of capital due to the passing away of my father,” he posted on a stock forum in 2011.
“Really don’t want to lose the money as he paid for it with 30+ years of his life.”
Tarrant is pictured in Pakistan as recently as last year, according to photographs and messages posted online.
In fact he rhapsodised about the country in a Facebook post, calling it ”an incredible place with the most earnest, kind-hearted and hospitable people in the world”, according to a social media post obtained by Heavy, which obtained a screenshot before it was deleted.
Tracey Gray, his former boss at the Grafton gym where he worked between 2009 and 2011, said he returned from the trip a changed man.
“He had no specific destination,” Ms Gray old the ABC.
“It was my understanding he was open to see the world, to see as many places as possible. He just wanted to experience different experiences.”
An obituary for Rodney Tarrant revealed he took his young family to Hawaii in 1991 so he could fulfil a lifelong dream to compete in the Hawaiian Iron Man triathlon.
“Rodney finished 334th out of 1400 competitors for the event that required competitors to complete a 3.8km swim, 180.2 km cycle and a 42.2 km run,” the tribute said.
“In 1995 Rodney was selected in the Australian team to compete at the Japan Strongman Triathalon Championships where he finished 58th in a field of 1300.”
It concluded: “Despite his marriage breaking up not long after the birth of his second child, this didn’t deter Rodney, who remained committed to his children until tragically losing his battle with cancer.”
Ms Gray said Tarrant inherited his father’s interest in physical fitness and was devoted to his job.
“He was very good, very dedicated with his training,” she told the ABC.
“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.”
Ms Gray described him as a model fitness instructor who went out of his way to help people and put in extra effort.
“I honestly can’t believe that somebody I have probably had daily dealings with and had shared conversations and interacted with would be capable of something to this extreme,” she said.
Originally published as Gunman’s bizarre trip to N Korea