THOMAS KELLY'S alleged attacker stood nearby and watched as he lay bleeding on the Kings Cross pavement, dying.
As paramedics tried in vain to resuscitate Mr Kelly, who was a former student of The King's School in Parramatta, police took details of those gathered in the crowd. One potential witness was Kieran Loveridge.
But as Mr Kelly's death gave way to a comprehensive manhunt for a killer, detectives gradually realised one of their witnesses was their prime suspect.
Mr Loveridge moved in rugby league circles, playing for Toongabbie All Saints, and also touch football with the Parramatta Touch Association.
John Nolan from the association said Mr Loveridge played one season with the club and showed no signs of aggression or violence. ''He had no history of misconduct or any misbehaviour,'' Mr Nolan said.
Mr Loveridge went to Model Farms high school at Baulkham Hills where he was often in trouble with teachers, a former schoolmate said. She said Mr Loveridge once slashed the tyres of a teacher's car and took a joyride on the groundskeeper's lawn mower. It is believed he was asked to leave the school before completing year 12.
During 12 days of painstaking investigation, detectives examined the July 7 attack on the notorious Kings Cross strip from dozens of angles.
Security footage from shops, nightclubs, strip joints and takeaway outlets was seized and witnesses spoken to. But one image reappeared.
Spurred on by an emotional community response to Mr Kelly's death, others came forward to reveal they too had been the victim of random violence that night. Police allege three others were the victims of Mr Loveridge
It began at 10.03pm, when Mr Loveridge allegedly struck a 17-year-old youth who, with a nightclub promoter friend, was handing out flyers on the corner of Darlinghurst Road and Victoria Street. He sustained a cut above his eye but was not seriously injured.
Two minutes later, Mr Loveridge is alleged to have delivered Mr Kelly a blow that knocked him to the ground, fatally wounding him.
Police allege the violence then paused for almost 45 minutes. Mr Loveridge was next detected near the corner of Darlinghurst Road and Roslyn Street. They say he was loitering opposite the Empire Hotel, where he allegedly assaulted Matthew Serrao, an eastern suburbs real estate agent, just before 11pm.
The fourth victim was a 20-year-old world champion Thai boxer, Rhyse Saliba, who had been celebrating his birthday. Mr Saliba suffered only a small cut on his cheek. The punch was not strong.
''I was just talking to my mate when someone hit me from behind. It took me a second to realise what had happened. I thought someone had thrown a tennis ball at me,'' he said last night at boxing training in Penrith. Thomas Kelly might still be alive if Mr Saliba had been the first victim, said Mr Saliba's coach, Jason Lapin. "Rhyse … would have chased him and caught him for sure.
"When Rhyse came to the gym on Monday and said what had happened, he just felt so bad for Thomas Kelly's parents," the coach said. "He just said 'oh my god, it could have been so different'."
After 12 days of piecing together a grainy puzzle, police were confident they had their man and the ''arrest phase'' began on Wednesday afternoon.
Swooping on a grandstand on a back field at Belmore sports ground, police found Mr Loveridge and a mate watching a coaching clinic held by the Canterbury Bulldogs and the NSW Rugby League Western Academy. He was arrested without incident.
Anticipating the media explosion, state Crime Commander Mal Lanyon said the Kelly family had been warned on Wednesday that officers might soon move on their target.
Ralph and Kathy Kelly declined all requests for interviews yesterday. They and their son's siblings will farewell him today at his old school, The King's School.
In a bizarre twist, the Herald has learnt that Mr Loveridge was known to a number of Mr Kelly's classmates at the school after they clashed with him at a party 18 months ago.
But this is not believed to be the motive for the attack on Mr Kelly, which police will allege was random and unprovoked.
The Acting Commissioner Catherine Burn said: ''I really pay my respects to the family. They have been unbelievably strong and dignified at such a time of terrible, terrible tragedy for them.''
Mr Lanyon said none of the man's alleged victims knew him and he would not comment on any motive. ''It was physical force used in each of the three incidents outside Mr Kelly and not dissimilar in nature,'' he said.
In Burwood Local Court yesterday, Mr Loveridge appeared charged with murder, two counts of common assault and one of assault occasioning actual bodily harm.
He wiped away tears as the case was mentioned briefly. His lawyers will apply for bail next week but are unlikely to succeed.
with Lisa Davies, Rachel Olding, Nick Ralston, Brad Walter