“There was a river of blood.” A first responder to the New Zealand shootings held back tears as he described what he saw at the Christchurch mosques.
CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand — New Zealand’s prime minister declared Tuesday she would do everything in her power to deny the accused mosque gunman a platform for elevating his white supremacist views after the man dismissed his lawyer and opted to represent himself at his trial in the killings of 50 people.
“I agree that it is absolutely something that we need to acknowledge, and do what we can to prevent the notoriety that this individual seeks,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told reporters. “He obviously had a range of reasons for committing this atrocious terrorist attack. Lifting his profile was one of them. And that’s something that we can absolutely deny him.”
She demurred about whether she wanted the trial to occur behind closed doors, saying that was not her decision to make.
“One thing I can assure you — you won’t hear me speak his name,” she said.
Later, in a passionate speech to Parliament, Ardern urged the public to follow her lead and to avoid giving the gunman the fame he so obviously craves.
“I implore you: Speak the names of those who were lost, rather than the name of the man who took them,” she said. “He may have sought notoriety, but we in New Zealand will give him nothing, not even his name.”
The shooter’s desire for attention was made clear in a manifesto sent to Ardern’s office and others before Friday’s massacre and by his livestreamed footage of his attack on the Al Noor mosque.
The video prompted widespread revulsion and condemnation. Facebook said it removed 1.5 million versions of the video during the first 24 hours, but Ardern expressed frustration that the footage remained online, four days after the attack.
“We have been in contact with Facebook; they have given us updates on their efforts to have it removed, but as I say, it’s our view that it cannot — should not — be distributed, available, able to be viewed,” she told reporters. “It is horrendous and while they’ve given us those assurances, ultimately the responsibility does sit with them.”
The original video was viewed fewer than 200 times during the live stream, Facebook said Monday night, and about 4,000 total times before the social network removed it. The first user report on the video came in 29 minutes after the broadcast had started and 12 minutes after the live-stream ended.
Arden said she had received “some communication” from Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg on the issue. The prime minister has also spoken with British Prime Minister Theresa May about the importance of a global effort to clamp down on the distribution of such material.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison also urged world leaders to crack down on social media companies that broadcast terrorist attacks. Morrison said he had written to G-20 chairman Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe calling for agreement on “clear consequences” for companies whose platforms are used to facilitate and normalize horrific acts.
Meanwhile, Christchurch was beginning to return to a semblance of normalcy Tuesday. Streets near the hospital that had been closed for four days reopened to traffic as relatives and friends of the victims continued to stream in from around the world.
Thirty people were still being treated at the Christchurch hospital, nine of them in critical condition, said David Meates, CEO of the Canterbury District Health Board. A 4-year-old girl was transferred to a hospital in Auckland and is in critical condition. Her father is at the same hospital in stable condition.
Relatives of the dead are still anxiously awaiting word on when they can bury their loved ones. Islamic tradition calls for bodies to be cleansed and buried as soon as possible. Ardern has said authorities hope to release all the bodies by Wednesday and police said authorities are working with pathologists and coroners to complete the task as soon as they can.
The close-knit community has been deeply wounded by the attacks. On Monday evening, more than 1,000 students from rival Christchurch schools and different religions gathered in a park across from the Al Noor mosque, joining voices in a passionate display of unity.
The students sat on the grass in the fading daylight, lifting flickering candles to the sky as they sang a traditional Maori song. Hundreds then stood to perform an emotional, defiant haka, the famed ceremonial dance of the indigenous Maori people.
For many, joining the vigil for the victims of the mass shooting was a much-needed opportunity to soothe their minds after a wrenching few days.
“I feel like it’s just really important to show everyone that one act of violence doesn’t define a whole city,” said Sarah Liddell, 17. “This is one of the best ways to show everyone coming together. Some schools have little funny rivalries, but in times like this we all just come together and that’s all forgotten.”
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