Neighbours of the Hawes first thought that a bur- glary had taken place when gardai arrived on the scene.
However, the true horror of what had happened in the family home has rocked the community.
Alan Hawe (40) killed his wife Clodagh (39) and their three children, Liam (13), Niall (11) and Ryan (6), at their home in the early hours of Monday.
"We saw the first garda car pulling in and we wondered what happened but thought nothing of it," one elderly neighbour said.
"Then another came, and another and we soon realised that something awful had happened.
"We just can't understand it."
A friend of the family, Larry McGinn, who spoke to Hawe two days before the killings, said the vice-principal was a person the community could always turn to.
"He was very committed. He was the sole person who would do anything for anybody at any time of day or night. He was very obliging," said Mr McGinn.
"If this happened in any other house in the parish, he's the one you would be ringing first to co-ordinate and do everything that would need to be done.
"It's just a bombshell. To the outside world, there were no problems. They bought their house before boom-time and for a reasonable amount on two teacher salaries.
"They had decent enough jobs that wouldn't cause a problem paying for that house, so you couldn't see anything in that line.
"I couldn't ever imagine asking him if he ever had any problems. There was just no indication of anything. The last time I saw him was last Saturday week at mass. It was my father's anniversary mass that night and they were all out for that.
"He was absolutely fine, nothing out of the ordinary. This is absolutely mystifying. There is nobody that knows him that can comprehend what has happened.
"He never said he was down or anything like that. He was always on time, always absolutely on the button."
Only a 30-minute drive away, a second community was struggling with the appalling news.
Mum Clodagh worked as a school teacher in Oristown National School in Kells, Co Meath.
One parent described her as the "best teacher in the world".
A former pupil, Shauna Sheppard (14), paid tribute to her teacher, who she said was a "very special person".
"Ms Hawe taught me in junior infants and then after that I had her every day to help me with English and maths so she was there for me every day," said Shauna, who also knew 13-year-old Liam, the eldest of the three Hawe brothers.
"She was so, so caring. If you had a problem you could go to her any time. She was very motherly towards me, always wanting to help me. She was just brilliant."