New Zealand's darkest day: 36 minutes of terror
CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand — On March 15, New Zealand changed. Some are calling it a loss of innocence, a reminder that distance doesn't bring protection against violence. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has vowed to change gun laws and investigate what went wrong. This is how 36 minutes of terror unfolded, according to witness accounts and livestream video.
Ardern and about 30 other people get a chilling email from Brenton Tarrant. He has attached a manifesto filled with racism and hatred as he tries to justify why he is about to carry out a massacre.
Its 74 pages are riddled with contradictions. He talks about the years he spent roaming the world and how "the varied cultures of the world greeted me with warmth and compassion."
Twelve pages in, he says he will target mosques in Christchurch and Linwood, as well as one in the town of Ashburton if he makes it that far.
Tarrant, a 28-year-old Australian who the prime minister says wasn't on the radar of the country's intelligence or law enforcement agencies and held a valid gun license, writes that he planned and trained for an attack for a couple of years after moving to the city of Dunedin, about a five-hour drive south of Christchurch.
He says he settled on Christchurch because the mosque there, with its prominent golden dome, is busier and looks more distinctively foreign.
A member of Ardern's staff sees the email and, two minutes after it arrives, forwards it to parliamentary security. But Tarrant's plan is already in motion.
He is sitting in his gold Subaru station wagon in a parking area in a black paramilitary outfit. He turns on a helmet camera and begins an internet livestream.
"Let's get this party started," he says.
It's Friday prayers, and the Al Noor mosque is filled with people. The imam, Gamal Fouda, has just finished the Khutbah, a sermon delivered in Arabic. He is starting the next part in which he translates it into English. The Khutbah is the most serious part of the prayer, where rapt attention is required and the worshippers are silent.
The sermon is about cooperating with each other, doing good and stopping evil.
As the gunman approaches the mosque, a man in the entrance calls out cheerfully, "Hello, brother." Tarrant fires nine shots, one after another, and walks past the first bodies.
Fouda hears shooting in the hallway and sees people start to run. He stops speaking. "It was chaos," he says.
The gunman's livestream shows him moving into the main prayer room and firing at everyone he sees. It is a big room and has few exits.
An Algerian man smashes a window on one side of the room, Fouda says, and people start pouring out through the jagged glass. On the other side, the people there try to do the same. But the bodies begin piling up at the makeshift exits.
"And he was actually standing behind them, and he was shooting and shooting and shooting and shooting," Fouda says. "Tragedy. Tragedy."
Fifty-year-old Naeem Rashid, a teacher who moved to New Zealand from Pakistan with his family when he was 11, rushes up behind Tarrant, trying to grab the gun. Tarrant turns around and shoots him dead.
Asif Shaikh, 44, tries to run but falls in the crush of bodies. He thinks about trying to make it to the exit when he sees somebody else make the same move and get shot. So he lies there, next to an old man who has been shot in the thigh. They are exposed and uncovered, but somehow they survive. Days later he still can't sleep, the sounds of gunshots ringing in his head.