"He wasn't always the best person in the world, and he did a lot of stupid stuff, but he wasn't malicious in any way, and me and my daughter loved him," said Lauren Palmer, the mother of Paulsen's 5-year-old daughter, Aurora.
The Camden County Prosecutor's Office said Paulsen, of Cape May Court House, had gotten into a fistfight with another man outside a split-level house at Brill Avenue and Egg Harbor Road between 10 and 10:45 p.m. An unspecified number of people were in the yard at the time.
Palmer said Paulsen had a rocky, on-and-off relationship with a woman who lived at the house.
After the fistfight, everyone except Paulsen went inside, the prosecutor's office said. A resident who was not involved in the fight, Timothy J. Canfield, allegedly emerged from the house with a compound bow and a quiver of arrows. Authorities said Canfield, 25, shot Paulsen once, hitting his target, and is charged with murder. The prosecutor's office said he later tried to hide the bow - commonly used for deer-hunting - in a wooded area of Winslow Township.
Palmer said that she and Canfield graduated from Eastern Regional High School in Voorhees and that she had never known him to be violent. She said Canfield dated another woman who lived at the house. Canfield's family could not be reached for comment.
According to his MySpace page, Canfield is also a father and attended Pennco Tech, a technical school in Blackwood, Camden County, in 2009. He also owned a reptile-supply business, the page says.
The prosecutor's office declined to elaborate on the argument at the house, but a neighbor said Paulsen frequently showed up arguing and starting fights with the woman he was dating there.
"I heard someone yelling at him to get out of here, but I guess he wouldn't leave," the neighbor said.
A law-enforcement source said Berlin Borough police arrested Paulsen recently after Canfield called 9-1-1. Paulsen was inside the home without permission, the source said, and later arrested for possession of a hypodermic needle after he fled.
The woman Paulsen supposedly was dating asked a Daily News reporter to leave the house Tuesday afternoon as other people came and went. On Paulsen's Facebook page, she wrote an angry post under a picture he posted of his daughter last week. Palmer said the woman believed that Paulsen was the father of her son, but he had always denied it.
Several photographs of Paulsen appear on police-mug-shot websites. He was arrested several times on drug charges in Lindenwold in recent years. On Christmas Eve, Paulsen was charged with shoplifting at a Kmart in Middle Township, Cape May County.
In September 2010, Paulsen wrote on Facebook that he was celebrating passing his "first drug test in 8yrs" by taking his daughter to the beach. His grandmother, Caroline Paulsen, said she wouldn't have been surprised if drugs played a part in his death.
"I'm brokenhearted," she said.
The victim's father, John Paulsen, said his son had had difficulties over child-support issues.
"He was a good kid, with a good heart, and he left behind a little girl," Paulsen's father said. "He was loved by all his friends and family. It's a hell of a loss."
Paulsen, whose mother is from Samoa, grew up around Wildwood and Cape May Court House, his father said, but lived in Camden County briefly and also attended Eastern Regional in Voorhees. According to his Facebook page, Paulsen worked over the summer at One Fish, Two Fish, a restaurant in Wildwood. Dozens of people posted memorials to Paulsen on Facebook.
A tearful Palmer said she told her daughter what happened on Tuesday.
"Kereti had a big battle in front of him and did a lot of things I'm sure he wasn't proud of," she said. "He had a good heart, deep down."
In August, Paulsen posted a birthday wish to his daughter.
"Daddy loves and misses you so much," he wrote on Facebook. "I hope to see you soon."
On Twitter: @JasonNark