About 1000 people gathered at a national remembrance service to mark the second anniversary of the deadly Christchurch mosque attacks.
Ko Tātou, Tātou, We Are One was held at Christchurch Arena on Saturday and included an address from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Police and members of the armed offenders squad was stationed outside the arena as a precaution, while a sniffer dog went through bags as people entered the arena.
The National Remembrance Service began with an address from master of ceremonies Julian Wilcox and a mihi from Ngāi Tahu’s Dr Te Maire Tau.
‘Shared humanity’ brings community together
Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel acknowledged the families and friends of the 51 people killed in the terror attack at the Masjid An-Nur (Al Noor mosque) and the Linwood Islamic Centre.
“You and they are in our hearts forever,” she said.
* Bereaved Muslim families to be joined by PM at national memorial service
* The anniversary of the Christchurch terror attack reminds us of our shared humanity
* Coronavirus: March 15 terror attack remembrance event cancelled
She also acknowledged those who were injured in the attack on two Christchurch mosques, along with “everyone who was traumatised by what they saw and experienced”.
“I thank those who have shared their stories. I know how painful that can be.
“However, a seed of understanding is planted each time such a story is shared. It is with understanding that we see that differences sometimes mask all that we have in common.
“And it is all that we have in common – our shared humanity – that brings us together in times of need.”
The remembrance service was also an opportunity to thank the first responders, emergency response teams, paramedics and hospital teams, along with the bystanders, passers-by and neighbours who stepped in to help save lives.
“It has been heart-warming to hear stories of lasting friendships forged in the hours and days after the attacks. No longer strangers, we are neighbours in the true sense of the word,” Dalziel said.
“We can all be proud of how we responded and how we supported each other with kindness and compassion.
“Although March 15, 2019, will always be a day when we can instantly recall where we were and what we were doing when we first heard the news of the attack, it is for the outpouring of support that our city will be forever remembered.”
A waita, Manu Makamutu, was performed by Cashmere High School students to lament those who died.
Seven people, including three students, associated with the school were killed or injured in the attack including Hamza Mustafa, 16, his father Khaled Mustafa, and Sayyad Milne, 14. Former student Tariq Omar, 24, also died in the attack.
The names of the 51 men, women and children killed were read out by members of their bereaved families and a minute’s silence was observed.
‘The love of my life’
Dr Kiran Munir, whose husband Haroon Mahmood died in the Masjid An-Nur, delivered an address on behalf of the bereaved families.
“Two years have passed by today. We gather here to remember the 51 beautiful souls who departed this world.”
Munir felt “honoured” to stand before those gathered to speak on behalf of the victims’ families.
“I … am the proud wife of Haroon Mahmood a well-educated, honourable and fine man. He was the love of my life and will always be.”
Her final goodbye with Mahmood still echoed in her mind.
“Little did I know the darkest day in New Zealand’s history had dawned.
“That day my heart broke in hundreds of pieces just like the families of 51 others. My kids and I felt our lives were meaningless after losing a wonderful husband and father.”
‘When he left this world, so too did his light’
Maha Elmadani, who lost her father Ali Mah’d Elmadani, spoke on behalf of the young Muslim people affected by the attack.
“Two years ago 51 innocent lives were taken without mercy at the hands of a coward. Their crime was their faith, their crime was calling this beautiful city home.
“The pain of losing these 51 lives not only impacted the people of Christchurch, the pain ripped through New Zealand and the rest of the world and continues to be felt.”
Those killed were loving fathers, mothers, brothers and sons, she said.
“They had so much to give to this land, they were proud Kiwis, and we were blessed to have them in our lives.”
When her father died he took a part of her soul with him, she said.
“When he spoke, everyone listened. He was my teacher, my anchor my source of truth.
“When he left this world so too did the light, his death has left behind a heartache that can never be healed and an emptiness that can never be filled.”
‘The longest, hardest path I’ve ever taken’
Temel Atacocugu, who was shot nine times in the face, arms and legs, spoke on behalf of the injured. He said March 15, 2019, was the day that “marked history with a dark stain”.
The victims were “proud Cantabrians and New Zealanders – they are us.”
He then described how he experienced firsthand the “savagery of that day”.
“It is a miracle I am alive. I was shot nine times. Four bullets in my left leg, one in my right leg, three in left arm another one in my mouth.”
He had since had several major surgeries and had more to come.
“Every time I have an X-ray it lights up like a Christmas tree. Despite rehabilitation my left arm is permanently disabled like so many others. Many of my wounds will never fully heal.”
On March 15, he managed to get out of the Masjid An-Nur with his friend.
“The 200-metre walk to the ambulance was the longest, hardest path I have ever taken. I sat on the ground beside an ambulance … my body filled with pain and fear.
“I kept thinking of my two sons, my mother, my siblings and all the people I love.”
He cried as he recalled the moment the father of Mucaad Ibrhaim, 3, was told he had died.
“Suddenly my pain seemed insignificant.”
He thanked those who helped them that day: bystanders, paramedics, emergency services staff.
Faisal Sayed, who lost one of his friends in the attack while another was hospitalised, spoke on behalf of other victims and the Muslim community. He said his young daughter gave him the strength to get through.
“Every time she said papa and she rested her forehead on my chest, I had a reason to smile and I had the strength.
“I have got big dreams for my daughter, I secretly want her to be the prime minister of New Zealand, but that does not matter. What really matters will she be able to shine without questions about her faith, religion and values.”
He thanked Ardern for acting as a figure who kept the community together.
“You changed people’s hearts,” he told her.
Masjid An Nur Imam Gamal Fouda said those at the service had gathered “at a time of great challenge for our nation and indeed the world”.
“Two years ago our lives were changed forever. No-one could have imagined that this terror attack would’ve ever happened in New Zealand.
“We all thought New Zealand was safe. But over the past two years we have shown that New Zealand is still unbreakable. And that the world has seen in us an example of love and unity.
“We are here today to reconfirm the same message of love and unity. We are together, we are one.”
PM: ‘Words have the power to heal’
Ardern acknowledged that 51 lives were taken “in the most tragic and horrific way”.
“Much has been said, but words, despite their healing power, will never change what happened that day. Words will not bring back those men women and children who gathered at their place of worship, quietly and peacefully when they were taken in an act of terror.”
Anyone who assumed the Muslim community had not experienced hatred and racism before that day would be “very wrong”, she said.
After the attack, she heard stories of women being frequently harassed because they were easily recognisable as Muslim.
The “horrible and dehumanising” stories were so common, some gave up doing anything about it, Ardern said.
Canterbury district commander Superintendent John Price said there had been “extensive planning” for several months leading up to the memorial service.
Police swept the venue to check it was safe several times before Saturday. Officers were also at venue during the service, and were stationed at the city’s mosques and at routes to and from the venue.
“Our Muslim community were the subject of a horrendous event. For me it’s always been about making sure that we put them at the very centre of everything we’re doing.
“The primary thing I want is for them to be able to have the time as a community to gather and remember. That’s really important.”
Looking back at March 15, 2019, Price said he could not have been prouder by how police responded to the attack.
“As police you come to work to protect your community … so when someone comes in and rips at the heart of your community, it’s really hard to deal with.
“The response of the community, the response of police, the response of the wider community in creating that sense of unity actually enabled us to be able to operate a lot more effectively.”
Million-dollar support package ‘not enough’
The minister responsible for the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (SIS) and the Government Communications Security Bureau, Andrew Little, said the Government was not considering additional support other than what was already available for victims and their families.
Little was asked on Newshub’s The Nation on Saturday why bespoke packages were not set up for victims as had happened in other countries.
“We need to make sure that those who particularly are still suffering trauma, and will for some time, are getting the psycho-social support that they need, but we’re not looking at any particular compensation package.
“Those who are entitled to ACC would have got it, those who are entitled to other psycho-social support would have got it, and will continue to get it, but we’re not looking at any other form of compensation,” he said.
On Friday, the Government promised $1 million to help Muslims scrutinise its response to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the massacre.
Leaders of the Muslim community told The Nation that kind of contribution was not enough and the Government should support community moves to create a compensation package.
Aliya Danzeisen, of the Islamic Women’s Council New Zealand, said $1 million amounted to about three cups of coffee for each member of the community.
She said the departments that allowed the attack to happen needed to be held accountable and those affected should be supported and compensated.
“The SIS and the Government are supposed to protect us as a community, and they did not do that. We want people who weren’t able to lead these agencies to step off … if they’re not moving on, push them on.”
Danzeisen said those affected by the shootings should be supported, so they could return – as much as possible – to the situation they were in before the attack happened.
“The royal commission … said [the Government] needed to have discussions with the families and find a way to rehabilitate and repair them.
“If they are going to meet the recommendations, they’ll be fronting up, and they’ll be doing some compensation.”