Pain and prayers rapidly spread worldwide as news broke that coordinated massacres staged by white supremacists in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, left 49 worshippers dead — shot down by immigrant-hating gunmen who livestreamed the attack on Facebook from a helmet-mounted camera.
Accused killer Brenton Harrison Tarrant appeared in court Saturday morning amid strict security and showed no emotion when the judge read him one murder charge. The judge said “it was reasonable to assume” more such charges would follow. Two other armed suspects were taken into custody while police tried to determine what role, if any, they played in the cold-blooded attack that stunned New Zealand, a country so peaceful that police officers rarely carry guns.
“It is clear that this can now only be described as a terrorist attack,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said. She called it “one of New Zealand’s darkest days.”
Tarrant, who police say carried out at least one of the shootings, posted a 74-page manifesto online in which he identified himself as a 28-year-old Australian white supremacist environmentalist bent on avenging deadly attacks by Islamic extremists in Europe.
Shockwaves registered quickly in Boston and worldwide.
“It’s hard being so far away when something like this happens,” said Jeannie Milne, a Christchurch native who now lives in Boston. “You get on the phone and call everyone, but you can’t reach out and give them a hug — you can’t physically be present.”
“New Zealand was a population that was psychologically unprepared for this kind of thing,” Milne told the Boston Herald. “But we’re not immune. We just think we’re immune, but we’re not immune.”
Boston police stepped up patrols around city mosques, temples, churches and any other houses of worship to guard against any copycat attacks. Mayor Martin J. Walsh and Police Commissioner William G. Gross joined local Muslims at an interfaith service and show of solidarity at a mosque in Roxbury.
“Those cowardly acts in New Zealand only strengthen us,” said Gross.
The horror of the attacks was intensified by the gunman’s graphic livestreaming of his rampage at Al Noor Mosque where, armed with at least two assault rifles and a shotgun, he sprayed worshippers with bullets over and over, killing at least 41 people. Several more people were killed in an attack on a second mosque in the city a short time later. At least 48 people were wounded, some critically.
Police also defused explosive devices in a car. They gave no details about the suspects but said none had been on any watch list. In the aftermath, police warned Muslims against going to mosques anywhere in New Zealand.
President Trump tweeted, “We stand in solidarity with New Zealand.” He called the bloodshed “a terrible thing” but rejected any suggestion the white nationalist movement is a rising threat around the world, saying it is “a small group of people that have very, very serious problems.” Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan and other Islamic leaders cited the attack as evidence of hostility toward Muslims since the al-Qaeda terrorist attack of 9/11.
New Zealand, with a population of 5 million, has relatively loose gun laws and an estimated 1.5 million firearms, or roughly one for every three people. But it has one of the lowest gun homicide rates in the world. Prime Minister Ardern said the “primary perpetrator” in the shootings was a legal gun owner. She said the country’s gun laws will change, but she did not specify how.
Herald wire services contributed to this report.
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