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Christchurch memorial: All eyes on NZ as victims of terror attack remembered

Friday March 29, 2019
By Dominic Harris, Adele Redmond and Charlie Mitchell

A large crowd forms in Hagley Park in Christchurch for the national remembrance service. Iain McGregor/Stuff

A man who survived the Christchurch terror attack but lost his wife has told tens of thousands gathered for the national memorial service that he has "chosen love" and has forgiven.

Kiwis and people around the globe tuned in on Friday to a live broadcast of the commemorations for the 50 victims of the March 15 mosque shootings.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern received a standing ovation as she took to the stage in Hagley Park and again after she finished speaking about 11.20am.

"We gather here, 14 days on from our darkest of hours ... we have often found ourselves without words," she told the crowd.

"[But] even when we had no words, we still heard yours. They have left us humbled and they have left us united.

"Racism exists, but it is not welcome here. Violence and extremism in all its forms is not welcome here. Over the last two weeks, we have shown that. You have shown that.

"Our challenge now is to make the very best of us a daily reality. We have work to do.

"We each hold the power – in our words, in our actions, in our daily acts of kindness – let that be the legacy of the 15th of March."

NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern arrives at the service.  Iain McGregor/Stuff

Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel said "no-one should stand alone".

"We stand together, we are one."

Everyone had a responsibility to ask the "hard questions of ourselves about what comfort we give to people who might harbour racist or hateful views", she said.

"We call on the social media platforms to take more responsibility ... hate has no place here, hate has no place anywhere.

"We will not be defined by what happened on the 15th of March."

Zaid Mustafa, centre, attends the national remembrance service in Christchurch on Friday with his mother. The 13-year-old lost his brother and father during the shooting. Iain McGregor/Stuff

Survivor Farid Ahmed, whose wife Husna was killed in the attack at the Masjid Al Noor on Deans Ave, spoke about how he had forgiven the gunman. 

"People ask me: 'why do you forgive someone who has killed your beloved wife?' The answer is ... I have a faith; I believe in Allah, and Allah says that if we forgive one another, he loves me, he loves us.

"I don't want to have a heart that is boiling like a volcano ... it doesn't have peace; it burns itself within, and it burns the surroundings.

"I want a heart that will be full of love and care, and will have mercy.

"I have chosen peace, I have chosen love, and I have forgiven".

Survivor Farid Ahmed, whose wife Husna died in the terror attack, spoke at Friday's service. Iain McGregor/Stuff

Muslim Council of Canterbury president Shaggaf Khan said he felt "deeply saddened" by the attack, but was "deeply humbled" that New Zealand had not left the Muslim community "alone in our sadness".

"I feel ultimately hopeful ... that we as a community, as people, as a nation, are now sure about the path we want to walk.

"I ask us all to consider this: from this hate, how much love has been shared?

"Out of this darkness, how much light has been spread?"

Federation of Islamic Associations of NZ president Dr Mustafa Farouk said New Zealand's prime minister and its Muslim community had "shown the world how to live with compassion". 

"Let's continue to build a future of togetherness, of connectedness."

There is a heavy police presence in Hagley Park. Iain McGregor/Stuff


Hundreds of police officers were stationed around Hagley Park before and during the service, and more were understood to be out of public view.

Commissioner Mike Bush said it was one of the largest security operations in New Zealand's history, and the visible police presence was intended to provide reassurance.

Some officers had come from Australia to provide assistance.

An Eagle helicopter was consistently circling above Hagley Park throughout the morning.

The many local and foreign dignitaries took their seats, immediately in front of the stage, just before the service began at 10am.

A New Zealand flag flies in the crowd at the national remembrance service at Hagley Park. John Kirk-Anderson/Stuff

Among them were US Ambassador Scott Brown, and New Zealand Government ministers such as Kelvin Davis, Stuart Nash and James Shaw, as well as Opposition MPs including Amy Adams and Gerry Brownlee.

Christchurch city councillors and mayors from around Canterbury were also at the service.

The National Remembrance Service was a nationwide event where communities could join together to reflect, honour, and mourn as one.

The event, officially called "Ko Tātou, Tātou, We Are One", was put together by the Christchurch City Council, central government, representatives of the Muslim community, and Ngāi Tahu, and included performances by artists including Yusuf Islam (previously known as Cat Stevens), Marlon Williams and several Kiwi acts.

Before singing, Islam told the crowd that his heart went "out to the families of those whose lives were snatched away in that evil carnage while they were worshipping the mosque two weeks ago".

"It's only when good people stay sitting that evil rises ... we've seen the opposite in this country ... love and kindness and unity had sprung up right here in New Zealand."

New Zealand Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy said it was possible to defeat the "poisonous malice that seeks to divide us" using tolerance, kindness, respect and understanding.

"But only if we have the courage to call out discrimination and racism wherever we see it.

"In this terrible time of grief, we have been brought closer together."

Burnside High School students Ofa Puleiku and Amelia MacDonald at the national remembrance service. Adele Redmond/Stuff


Burnside High School head students Ola Puleiku and Amelia MacDonald, both 17, said their school had been deeply affected by the death of year 12 student Muhammad Haziq Mohd-Tarmizi in the shootings.

Burnside students wearing school supporter jerseys could be spotted among the crowd at Friday's service.

Puleiku said Mohd-Tarmizi's death had brought the students, particularly in the senior school, closer together.

"You see people caring for each other. You see more people smiling, having conversation."

Rosalie Johnson, ,left, Judy Van Leeuwen and Pam Butler pay their respects at the national remembrance service. Dominic Harris/Stuff

Puleiku and MacDonald said they were preparing several events to raise awareness of racism in their community.

Friday's service "isn't going to be closure for us", MacDonald said.

"You can never stop caring about this."

Four Christchurch high schools closed for the service: Cashmere, Girls' High, Boys' High and Burnside.

Burnside High principal Phil Holstein said it was the right decision.

"To be fair, our staff and our students are tired. If they were at school they would probably be watching it anyway."

Long-time Christchurch resident John Gebbie says the terror attack "felt like an attack" on the whole city. Dominic Harris/Stuff


Old friends Rosalie Johnson, Pam Butler and Judy Van Leeuwen, all retired teachers, said they were there to support all of Christchurch and New Zealand.

Like many others in the city, the attacks struck a personal note for Johnson – her neighbour, 17-year-old Burnside High student Muhammad Haziq Mohd-Tarmizi, was among those killed at the Al Noor mosque, and his father, Mohammed Tarmizi Shuib, was recovering after being shot twice.

"The events of the last two weeks have caused me to reflect on what is happening around the world, and the fact that we need to try and understand each other more," she said.

A show of support from women wearing hijab in the crowd at the national remembrance service. JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/STUFF

For Butler, the attacks had left New Zealand facing some uncomfortable truths.

"I don't want to live in a country where there is hatred and dislike for other groups in society.

"Until this happened we probably thought we lived in a harmonious society."

Van Leeuwen added: "It is incredibly tragic and we never thought it would happen here.

"We need to actually reflect upon what sort of society we have here and make it more inclusive for everyone."

A member of the crowd holds a sign of support for the Muslim community. Iain McGregor/Stuff

For John Gebbie, the events of the last two weeks had struck a personal note.

A lifelong Christchurch resident, he said: "I have lived here for 72 years, all through the earthquakes.

"This is different – it feels personal. This is a personal attack against Christchurch.

"Nature was the other one, and we had no control over that."

Friends Helen Smit and Bobby Turner, who were wearing headscarves, said they had gone to the service to show their solidarity with the Muslim community.

"I am actually gutted that the whole thing has happened and just wanted to show my love and support for the Muslim people," Smit said.

"I am still quite shocked that one person could so this to innocent people."

For Turner, the events of the past fortnight had brought Christchurch people together in a manner similar to the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes.

"You see things like this happen in the news and not here, and the suddenly it's right on your doorstep. It's sickening."

Members of Christchurch's Muslim community gather in Hagley Park. George Heard/Stuff


A service was also held at Dunedin's Town Hall to remember those affected by the March 15 attacks.

Dunedin North MP and Health Minister Dr David Clark addressed the audience before the livestream of the National Remembrance Service being held in Christchurch's Hagley Park began.

He said the country was united in rejecting hate and racism, and would respond with love, inclusion and respect.

It was important people continued to talk and learn from each other.

That must be the legacy of March 15, he said.

"We will choose light over darkness."

Hundreds had also gather at Waitangi Park, on Wellington's foreshore, for Friday's service.

The Wellington Orchestra played as attendees walked by armed officers, bomb detector dogs and security guards checking bags.

After an opening prayer in te reo Māori, an imam called out across the park, his voice echoing off national museum Te Papa.

Mayor Justin Lester has a message for the Muslim community: "When you cry, your tears are shed by us all.

"I've never been as proud of the Wellington community as I've never been this week," he said.
‘Thank you for your tears and flowers’ - Dr Mustafa Farouk’s gratitude for Kiwi support

A policeman scans for threats from a high perch. GEORGE HEARD/STUFF

Tahir Nawaz, president of the Muslim Association New Zealand, told the crowd the pain felt by the Muslim community was shared by all New Zealanders.

"Now we look forward to the future ... Hope springs from this tragedy."

He was confident that New Zealand would continue to welcome refugees and migrants, and provide safety for tourists.

"New Zealanders will not be divided."

After the prayers and speeches, a long period of silence followed as images of last week's vigil event in Wellington were broadcast on screen.

‘I can no longer see the beautiful faces’ - Muslim Association president remembers those lost in Christchurch terrorist attack

A message of support left by Murray Odering, 91. Jane Watson


* Auckland: Eden Park, simultaneous livestream, call to prayer from 1.15pm and remembrance programme from 2.15pm. More details are here.

* Hamilton: Claudelands Arena, livestream, doors open 8.30am.

* Tauranga: Simulcast at Trustpower Baypark Arena from 9.30am.

* Palmerston North: Live screening in events quadrant at The Square.

* Wellington: Live broadcast at Waitangi Park, gates open 9am.

* Blenheim: Livestream at the ASB Theatre auditorium, doors open 9am.

* Dunedin: Live coverage at the Dunedin Town Hall from 9.30am.

* Some events in Southland, Waikato and the Far North have been cancelled following police advice.


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