The man, named locally as Danny Humble, 35, was attacked in an underpass in Cramlington, Northumberland, as he walked home with his partner at 1am on Saturday.
He suffered serious head injuries, leaving his girlfriend to desperately knock on doors ‘screaming for help’.
‘The man was laid out on the grass near the underpass where the paramedics were working on him,’ one neighbour said. ‘It was horrible.’
Eight teenage boys, aged 16 to 18, were arrested on suspicion of murder over the incident, which has shocked the quiet town.
Resident June Taylor said: ‘We heard the teenagers tried to grab the woman’s handbag and he retaliated.’
She added: ‘It is so sad. This is a lovely area with lots of families so this is totally out of character. We are all being vigilant now.’
Mr Humble was rushed to hospital, where he died the next day.
Tracy Tait, 58, lives on a nearby estate and often walks her dog along the pathway.
She told Chronicle Live: ‘It’s a lovely area – you know, the sort of place where everybody says hello when you pass.
‘I think people are devastated, really, that something like that can happen on your doorstep. Cramlington has always been a nice place but unfortunately, something like this can happen – to someone just walking back from a night out. It’s unbelievable.
‘It’s tragic – your heart just goes out to the family.’
The subway has been cordoned off for forensic investigations as debate about a lack of CCTV was raised on social media.
Flowers and tributes have been left at the scene, including one that reads: ‘Fly high Danny.’
Detective Inspector Joanne Brooks said specialist family liaison officers have been in touch to comfort his family.
‘Inquiries are ongoing to establish exactly what has happened and how the victim in this case has ultimately lost his life,’ she said.
‘A number of people are believed to have been in the area near the time of the attack, so we want to hear from those people – as well as any motorists passing that area at the time who may have dashcam footage.’