After about 20 years of a relationship marred by domestic violence, it appeared Gavin and Felicity Cook were about to part ways amicably and move on.
An apprehended violence order - placed on Mr Cook by his wife - had expired in October and had not been renewed, with the couple telling family and friends they were about to divorce and split up their assets.
But daughters Britney, 19, and Courtney, 17, will be forced to spend the rest of their lives without their parents.
Their father is suspected of murdering their mother before shooting himself dead at their house in Adelaide Street, Waratah West, near Newcastle.
"Our focus is now on the kids. We need to give them as much support and protection as possible," Mr Cook's cousin and former Newcastle Knights player Ashley Gordon said last night.
"This is obviously very difficult for everyone. There are a lot of questions without answers."
Mr Cook, 39, a former Newcastle Knights reserve grade rugby league player, sent a text message to a relative in Dubbo just after midnight yesterday.
Mr Cook had suggested he was suicidal and, when police arrived minutes after the text was sent, they found the coalminer dead on the floor of his wife's room with a .22 calibre rifle nearby.
Mrs Cook, 42, a midwife at John Hunter Hospital, was found dead in her bed.
She is suspected of having been suffocated, although autopsies will be performed on the bodies today to formally determine a cause of death.
Although a pig hunter, who had hunting dogs staying at house, Mr Cook was not registered to possess firearms.
It is not known how or when he obtained the rifle.
The apparent murder-suicide followed numerous domestic violence incidents involving the couple, who had been together for about 20 years.
One allegation was that Mr Cook stood in the street and publicly threatened to shoot his wife dead.
The Newcastle Herald has learnt that Mrs Cook had taken an apprehended domestic violence order out on her husband on October 27, 2009, possibly after the shooting threats were made.
The AVO was amended in April, 2010, after Mr Cook breached it by assaulting his wife and it continued without any more breaches before expiring about two months ago.
Friends and neighbours have told how Mrs Cook had ended the relationship following the death threats before taking her husband back in.
But the relationship appeared to have soured again and the pair had told family and friends they were sleeping in separate rooms and were preparing to divorce.
The Newcastle Herald has been told that Mr Cook had also made arrangements to take out a bank loan and pay his wife for her share of the house. Family members had noticed he was drinking more regularly and had bulked up quickly by pumping weights.
The pair's daughters were not home at the time of yesterday's shooting and were being cared for by relatives.
Mr Cook's extended family had travelled from Dubbo.
Richard Novac, who cares for his elderly mother across the road from the Cooks, said he spoke frequently to the couple and Mrs Cook appeared to be looking forward to the future.
"I spoke to Felicity and she said 'I have been with this guy for 20-odd years and all I got out of it was two daughters,'" Mr Novac said.
"But she said 'I feel fine, I feel happy and I feel good.'"
Mrs Cook is believed to have been raised in Casino and met her husband in Newcastle.
Mr Cook had moved from Dubbo to play rugby league with the Toronto Scorpions in 1993, won a Newcastle Rugby League premiership with Kurri Kurri in 1995 and played two seasons with Newcastle Knights reserve grade from 1996.
In 1998, he played the first of five seasons with Western Suburbs before a one-year stint with South Newcastle, and also represented Newcastle.
He came out of retirement to captain-coach Raymond Terrace in 2006.
- Newcastle Herald
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