A little after 11pm on Sunday, the Israeli government posted a photograph of a family on one of its social media accounts. There were five people in the selfie: a mother, a father and their three young children, all of them smiling.

“Tamar, Yonatan and their children Shachar, Arbel, Omer,” the caption read. “An entire family wiped out by Hamas terrorists. There are no words. May their memory be a blessing.”

Moments later, the former Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett reposted the photo.

“An entire family murdered in cold blood,” he wrote. “Look at their happy faces. Their love. All of them murdered by Palestinian terrorists at Nir Oz kibbutz. Just because they’re Jews.”

Although it remains unclear exactly what happened to the Kedem family on their kibbutz, which lies a mile and a half from the border with Gaza, their picture – and the story of their murders – has been widely shared to illustrate the utter pitilessness and ferocity of Hamas’s attack on Israel.

According to friends in Australia, the family rushed to their safe room when the assaults began, from where they sent a WhatsApp message.

“Hi guys, we got into the shelter in our house, we’re all going okay,” the text read.

An hour later, however, Tamar had stopped responding to messages from Yishai and Mor Lacob, her friends in Sydney.

“It started to get really scary,” Mor Lacob told the Sydney Morning Herald. “We’re trying to call her, message her. We were trying to speak with people there … people we might know in this area, we were harassing everyone.”

The Lacobs said they had later been told that the safe room had been breached and that Tamar, Yonatan, Shachar, Arbel and Omer had been murdered.

Mor Lacob said her friend Tamar, a women’s rights activist and community leader, would be remembered for her kindness and sense of social justice.

“She was such a special woman,” Mor Lacob told the paper. “She always cared about the poor people, always made sure that people less fortunate will have the same opportunities. She was a living example to these values.”

On Sunday morning, a volunteer at Nir Oz, a community of about 400 people, said residents had woken to “a kibbutz in flames” and were “still passing around checking damages and trying to figure out who is where”.

As the hours passed, another horrific account emerged from the same kibbutz. Relatives of an as-yet-unnamed woman said their grandmother had been murdered by the militants, who then filmed her dying moments and posted them on her Facebook page.

“My grandmother, a resident of kibbutz Nir Oz all her life, was murdered yesterday in a brutal murder by a terrorist in her home,” her granddaughter, Mor Bayder wrote on Facebook on Sunday.

“A terrorist came home to her, killed her, took her phone, filmed the horror and published it on her Facebook wall. This is how we found out.”

Another of the woman’s grandchildren, Yoav Shimoni, who had visited her on the kibbutz two weeks earlier to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, said the family believed she had been targeted because of her house’s proximity to the border fence.

“I assume she was the first point of contact for one of the terrorists that infiltrated,” Shimoni told CNN. “They then came into her house, shot her down, took her phone and then put her dying video on Facebook.”

He described his grandmother as a “super happy, super confident” and optimistic person who was always in high spirits and always thinking of her family.

Another atrocity on the nearby Re’im kibbutz was reported on Facebook by Reut Karp, who said her children’s father, Dvir Karp, had been murdered.

At 8.20am on Sunday, “terrorists entered Dvir’s house. He threw an axe at them,” she said. Dvir Karp had tried to protect the children, she wrote, but he was killed in front of them. His girlfriend “also tried, but they killed her too”.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Hannah Ben-Artzi, a 69-year-old woman from Kfar Aviv, central Israel, had been killed by a rocket while trying to open a public shelter for those who did not have shelters in their own homes.

The international dimension of the attacks was underscored by the number of dual nationals, Israelis of foreign descent and foreigners caught up in the bloodshed. The Chilean government offered its condolences to the family of Itay Berdichevsky, an Israeli citizen with a Chilean grandfather who was murdered along with his wife, Hadar. The couple, both 30, are believed to have placed their 10-month-old twins in a hidden shelter when they heard the militants at the door.

“Itay and Hadar were brutally murdered after fighting bravely against the terrorists,” according to Gali Dagan, Israel’s ambassador to Colombia. “The babies, who had been on their own for more than 12 hours, were rescued. Imagine the horror. Two terrified parents doing everything they could to save their children, who are now orphans. Blessed be the memory of these heroes.”

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