The death toll in the mosque shootings that shook New Zealand rose to 50 people on Saturday with victims ranging in age from 2 years old to over 60, local media reports.
Of the 50 injured, 36 remain in Christchurch hospital following the massacre. Two adults are considered in critical condition at the city’s hospital and one child is at Starship children’s hospital in Auckland, according to the New Zealand Herald.
A 28-year-old Australian was the sole gunman who allegedly opened fire on two mosque during Friday prayers in the New Zealand city of 375,000, police said. Two other people, a man and a woman, who were arrested soon after the shootings were not linked to the shooter.
Among the critically injured is a 4-year-old Alin Alsati who was gunned down alongside her father at the Al Noor mosque.
Alin, who turns 5 next month, was shot up to three times during the melee, according to the New Zealand Herald. The girl was described as beautiful and kind-hearted by an unnamed friend of the family.
Her father, Jordanian barber Wasseim Alsati, posted a video to Facebook from his hospital bed asking friends and family to “please pray for me and my daughter.”
Earlier, more than 200 members of the Muslim community met with hospital officials to discuss how the bodies will be identified and released this weekend, but many of them left saying they could not wait all night for information, Radio News Zealand reports.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern wore a black hijab when she and a contingent of local officials met Muslim leaders at the Canterbury Refugee Center and at Hagley College.
For family members, she said, “very much the focus on them was being able to access their loved ones,’ she said, according to the Daily Mail. “Front of mind for them, of course, is fulfilling their religious expectations and that is burial.”
Ardern told the grieving families she has many roles as prime minister, but on Saturday had three “incredibly important jobs.”
“One is to bring with me the message of love and support and grief of the people of New Zealand,” she said. “The second message that I have is to ensure your safety — your freedom to worship safely; your freedom to express your culture and religion.”
Across the country, meanwhile, New Zealanders reached out to Muslims in their communities the day after the mass shootings. New Zealanders everywhere volunteered acts of kindness. Some offered rides to the grocery store or volunteered to walk with their Muslim neighbors if they felt unsafe.
In other online forums, people discussed Muslim food restrictions as they prepared to drop off meals for those affected.
The alleged gunman appeared in court under tight security Saturday. Shackled and wearing all-white prison garb, he showed no emotion when the judge read him one murder charge.
At one point, he did appear to make a hand gesture — forming an ‘OK’ sign sometimes associated with white nationalists.
The judge said “it was reasonable to assume” more such charges would follow. He was ordered to return to court April 5.
The alleged shooter in the massacre sent a copy of his rambling, anti-immigrant manifesto to the country’s prime minister and 69 others only minutes before he opened fire, the New Zealand Herald reports.
The newspaper says Ardern’s office confirms receiving the 74-page screed in which the suspected gunman attempted to explain his actions. It had been sent to the prime minister’s generic email address, and not her personal address, according to the the spokesman.
“The mail was setting his reasons for doing it,” a spokesman for Ardern told the newspaper. “He didn’t say this is what I am about to do. There was no opportunity to stop it.”
It was quickly turned over to parliamentary security he said, according to the newspaper.
The Herald reports that other politicians on the gunman’s mailing list included National leader Simon Bridges and Parliament’s Speaker Trevor Mallard. Some recipients lived abroad, the newspaper reported.
Police Commissioner Mike Bush confirmed the gunman was involved in both shootings but stopped short of saying he was the sole shooter.
Ardern said he was a licensed gun owner who bought the five guns used in the crimes legally.
“I can tell you one thing right now, our gun laws will change,” Ardern said.
The attack was the deadliest in the nation’s history since 1990, when David Gray killed 13 people before being shot and killed by police in the town of Aramoana.
The prime minister also said she had spoken to President Donald Trump who offered his condolences and asked what the U.S. could do.
“He asked what offer of support the United States could provide,” Ardern said at a news conference afterward. “My message was: ‘Sympathy and love for all Muslim communities.'”
Before their phone conversation, Trump had responded to a question from reporters by saying he did not view white nationalism as a threat, adding: “I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems, I guess. If you look what happened in New Zealand, perhaps that’s the case. I don’t know enough about it yet…But it’s certainly a terrible thing.”
Adern, when asked by reporters later if she agreed with his assessment, responded: “No.”
In his lengthy manifesto, the gunman said he was first pushed toward violence while touring Europe in 2017 after an Uzbek man drove a truck into a crowd of people in Stockholm, killing five people, including an 11-year-old Swedish girl.
He said his desire for violence grew when he arrived in France, where he became enraged by the sight of immigrants in the cities and towns he visited.
He said New Zealand, far from Europe, was not the “original choice for attack,” but described it as “target rich of an environment as anywhere else in the West.”
The dossier, which was described by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison as a “work of hate,” hailed Trump as “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.”
He said he was carrying out the attacks, “to directly reduce immigration rates to European lands by intimidating and physically removing the invaders themselves.”
By choosing Christchurch, he wrote, he would show that no place on earth was safe and that even a country as far away as New Zealand is subject to mass immigration. He said he settled on his target three months ago.
Contributing: Mike James, Jane Onyanga-Omara; The Associated Press
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