It was a calm Friday afternoon of March 15 in Christchurch, where people continuing with their normal lives - workers at their respective workplaces, shoppers at malls, mums preparing afternoon tea at homes, students in their schools, and members of Muslim community preparing for their weekly Friday prayers scheduled around 2 p.m. when the world suddenly came shattering down on them as a heavily armed and radicalised man opened indiscriminate firing on worshippers in two mosques.

The first few hours of the frenzy unleashed by an absolutely evil, and radicalised man on Friday, March 15, has been permanently etched in our collective memories as, and best described by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern as “the darkest day of New Zealand".

A 28-year-old man laden with,  highly dangerous semi-automatic weapons and even worse, a highly radicalised extremist ideology of hatred towards everything “foreign” to his own views, went on a shooting spree, first at Al Noor Mosque at Deans Avenue, where he killed 42 innocent lives, before calmly driving to a second nearby mosque at Linwood and killing another seven people.

Even worse than the brutal and gutless killing of innocent people aged between 3 years to 70 years, was the fact that man live streamed his shooting spree of 17 minutes on Facebook Live which was shared in millions on social media.

Police officers hunting the gunman near Liunwood Mosque on Friday, March 15

Clearly, humanity has taken an almost U-turn on that Friday, March 15 afternoon.

What has happened since then is a collective effort of the entire New Zealand nation, under the leadership of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, and supported by every stripe of political leanings in the country, to turn back the direction of humanity that was pushed for a U-turn.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that on Friday, March 15, 2019, efforts have begun to rebuild a new New Zealand nation.

At 1:40 p.m., Al Noor Masjid on Deans Avenue, Riccarton - a suburb close to Hagley Park was preparing for the Friday prayers – when a gunman entered the mosque after stopping his car at the driveway of the mosque and fired on a 70-year-old man standing at the narrow gate of the mosque who greeted him with ‘Hello, brother’.

The gunman then walked inside and started indiscriminate firing at the worshippers present in the hall and other room. Some worshippers tried to escape through the mosque window while others continue to fall prey to the bullets. The gunman continued shooting at the wounded people multiple times before returning back to his vehicle to pick another weapon, and on the way back to his car shot many more outside.

Police on duty outside cordoned Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch 

The gunman returned back inside the mosque shooting the worshippers who were wounded and unable to move.

The gunman spent approximately six minutes inside Al Noor Mosque before returning back to his car and shooting a woman coming towards the mosque.

Subsequently, he drove east towards Linwood Islamic Centre which was located seven kilometres from Al Noor Mosque and sped there in 5 minutes before starting another round of shooting there.

The Hero who fought with the gunman

As narrated by one of the witnesses, the gunman did not find the door of the mosque and shot from the window that alerted people inside who ran for cover. The gunman was then confronted by Abdul Aziz who threw a credit card reader at him to distract him from shooting the other worshippers.

The gunman, however, managed to pull another firearm from his car and started shooting at Mr Aziz who ducked behind other vehicles parked in the driveway. Mr Aziz then called him to the driveway to deflect him to going back to the mosque. Mr Aziz picked up the shotgun the gunman had left and pulled the trigger, but it had no bullets. Seeing the shotgun in Mr Aziz’s hand, the gunman ran to his car trying to flee from the scene. Mr Aziz trying to get hold of him ran behind the car and smashed the window with the shotgun.

'Hero' Abdul Aziz

Shortly, the gunman’s car slammed against a police car at the kerb on Brougham Street where two police officers apprehended him. Other police officers also approached Mr Aziz seeing a gun in his hand but were later let off after realising he was a ‘hero’ trying to stop the gunman.

The gunman killed seven people and injured several at Linwood Mosque. Two explosive devices attached to suspects’ vehicles were found and disarmed by the police.

First Responders:

Police Commissioner Mike Bush in a media appearance on Wednesday confirmed the response time of the police after the first call to 111 that was made from the mosque at 1:41 p.m.

The armed police unit was on the scene [Al Noor Mosque] at 1:47 p.m, within six minutes of the call as mentioned by Police Commissioner Mike Bush at the media press conference. The Armed Offenders Squad was present within 10 minutes, and within 36 minutes, the gunman was in custody of the police at Justice Precinct.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s emotional media speech:

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in her first media appearance after the massacre on Friday, March 15 strongly condemned the attack on the mosque and declared the shootout as a ‘terrorist attack’.

“These are people who I would describe as having extremist views that have absolutely no place in New Zealand and in fact have no place in the world,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in her speech from the Beehive addressing the nation.

“You may have chosen us – we utterly reject and condemn you,” PM Ardern added.

PM Jacinda Ardern meeting the victims of ChCh Mosque attack

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern travelled to Christchurch on Saturday afternoon, March 16 to meet the families of the victims of who died and got injured in the vile act of violence.

She made her first stop at a Refugee and Migrant Centre to meet a group of community leaders. She later, upon request from the community leaders stopped went to Hagley College to meet the families of the victims. Ms Ardern shared the grief with the families present at the centre and assured to provide every possible support from police, ACC and hospital and government so that the last rites of the deceased can be done as early as possible.

Image of PM Jacinda Ardern gracing the victim of ChCh Mosque attack on world's tallest building Burj Khalifa in Dubai, posted by UAE as an appreciation towards PM's emphatic response towards the victims 

“The visit was an important opportunity to share the grief of the country directly with those who have experienced so much loss", she said.

First of many candle vigils for the victims:

Saturday, March 16 saw thousands of Kiwis come together at the  Aotea Centre in Auckland to participate in the first of many candle vigils to condemn the violence and remember the victims of this unprecedented violence. The event saw Auckland Mayor Phil Goff, Ministers from the government, Members of Parliament, community leaders and the general public come together, grieve and mourn the vicious attack that took the lives of 50 people and broke innumerable families in Christchurch.

Vigil held at Aotea Centre in Auckland on Saturday, March 16

Floral tribute at Deans Avenue & Linwood Mosque:

Following the two attacks, Kiwis from all walks of life and different parts of the country who had either flown or driven to Christchurch to pay their respects and offer their support to the families affected in the attack inundated the city with flowers and messages of compassion and empathy. 

An immediate relief centre was established at the Hagley Community Centre and later Sir Richard Hadlee Community Centre, just opposite to the Christchurch Hospital to coordinate the support and relief for victims.  

Flowers placed on Deans Avenue

These venues received assistance in kind such as perishable and non-perishable food items, blankets, daily necessities, along with volunteers offering services like free transport, taxi services, looking after victims in hospitals and much more, for the people stationed there since the incident.

One such place that can be deemed as the ‘Ground Zero’ of rebuilding New Zealand nation – which symbolises the compassion, empathy, inclusiveness and rejection of racial bigotry and hatred, was the corner of Deans Avenue, the street on which Al Noor Masjid is located. The street corner was poured with bouquets and had almost transformed the corner as a valley of colourful flowers and messages of love and compassion all along.

Hundreds of Kiwis, men, women, children, students dressed in school uniforms offered their prayers and love at the place in flowers, messages of love on big boards, candles, pictures. Students in school uniforms sang hymns, songs in Maori language, performed emotional Haka as they braved their tears remembering the fallen souls.

The last journey of the deceased:

Following the post mortem by the authorities, the bodies of the deceased started to be handed to the families from Tuesday, March 19, and the first funeral was conducted on Wednesday, March 20.

Approximately 30 graves were prepared and arrangements for the funeral prayers (Janaza) for both male and female members at Memorial Park Cemetry. The first funeral was of father-son duo, 16-year-old Hamza Mustafa and 44-year-old Khaled Alhaj Mustafa that witnessed more than 700 people to be a part of the funeral ceremony.

Community gathers for the funeral at Memorial park Cemetry in East Linwood, Christchurch

A total of 15-people were buried on Wednesday and Thursday, March 20 and 21- a few on Friday morning, March 22 and a mass funeral of 28 deceased was held just after 4 p.m. including the three-year-old, Mucad Ibrahim, the youngest victim who died in the terror attack.

2-minutes silence observed for the victims:

The Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had announced on Wednesday, March 20 at the press conference that a 2-minutes silence will be observed on Friday, March 22 after a call of prayer or Adhan being made at 1:30 p.m.

The country came to a standstill on Friday, March 22, after Prime Minister addressed the nation from Christchurch with the greeting ‘Assalam Alaikum’, that means ‘Peace Be Upon You‘ followed by the ‘Call to prayer’ as it was broadcasted live on Radio New Zealand and TVNZ. This was followed by two-minutes silence observed throughout the nation.

Community forms a human-chain outside Onehunga Islamic Centre in Auckland on Friday, March 22 and observe 2-minutes silence for the victims of the ChCh Mosque Attack

Thousands of people turned up at Hagley Park and near Al-Noor Mosque in Christchurch for the Friday prayers. Hundreds of Kiwis visited at almost every mosque in the country just before the weekly Friday prayers that marks the one week since the terror attack on the two mosques. People came with their bouquets and messages, and women donned scarves to show their love and support towards the Muslim community and the solidarity towards the dead and the wounded. People also formed human chains around mosques at the time of Friday prayers while some Kiwis also joined worshippers inside the mosques to witness the prayer.

Community forms a human-chain outside Masjid Umar in Mt Roskill in Auckland on Friday, March 22 and observe 2-minutes silence for the victims of the ChCh Mosque Attack

Evening Vigil:

An event, ‘Jummah Remembrance: Vigil for lives taken in Christchurch’ was called at Auckland Domain from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The event was called to remember the victims of the racial attack and express its solidarity towards the victims and their families. Police in a media release requested the people to be patient as they expected several thousand to be present at the vigil for community reassurance and as a precautionary measure to ensure public safety.

(Images used in the above article are taken from NZ Herald, Radio New Zealand and [in-house] The Indian Weekender)