Christchurch terror shooting: A day for love and tears

9:27 pm on 18 March 2019

As the nation continues to pick up the pieces in the aftermath of the Christchurch terror attack on Friday, the best of humanity was evident today.

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Photo: RNZ / AFP

Thousands gathered at vigils in Christchurch, Queenstown and in other cities across the country throughout the day to pay tribute to the victims of Friday's attacks at two Christchurch mosques, which have clamed 50 lives.

In Christchurch, hundreds of students gathered at the Deans Avenue memorial, where a haka was performed.

This morning Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern opened an official book of condolences for the victims of the Christchurch attacks with the words "they are us".

Ms Ardern and Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy opened two condolence books in Parliament's Grand Hall. The prime minister's message read, "On behalf of all New Zealanders we grieve, together we are one, they are us".

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern signs the Condolence Book.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern signs the Condolence Book. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Donations for the victims on the Givealittle page reached over $5m today. It was set up by Victim Support and they say the money is being ring-fenced and is not for their regular operating costs.

However, government cybersecurity agency CERT and Westpac said reports had been received of online scammers using the Christchurch shootings as an opportunity to try to steal money. Westpac warned an email scam using its branding is circulating, asking for donations for the victims of the mosque attacks.

Westpac head of financial crime and security Tiffany Ryan said the scams were "horrific". "I think it's really sad where areas of society see vulnerabilities and exploit these," she said.

In a post-Cabinet press conference today, Ms Ardern said that although in principle decisions had been made around the reform of New Zealand's gun laws following today's Cabinet meeting, there was still some detail to be worked through.

PM Jacinda Ardern at today's press conference.

PM Jacinda Ardern at today's press conference. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Ms Ardern said details of reforms would be announced within 10 days of Friday's Christchurch mosque attacks.

"As the Cabinet we were absolutely unified and very clear, the terror attack in Christchurch on Friday was the worst act of terrorism on our shores, it was in fact one of the worst globally in recent times, it has exposed a range of weaknesses in New Zealand's gun laws," she said.

Before Ms Ardern's announcement Gun City retail boss David Tipple said his company had sold four A-Category firearms to the man accused of the Christchurch mosque shootings between November 2017 and March 2018. Ammunition was also sold. However, a military-style MMSA semi-automatic assault rifle believed to be used in the attack was not sold to the accused by the chain. He said he did not feel any responsibility for the shootings.

Gun City store owner David Tipple speaks to the media during a press conference today.

Gun City store owner David Tipple speaks to the media during a press conference today. Photo: AFP or licensors

Police Commissioner Mike Bush this afternoon said the criminal investigation into the Christchurch terror attacks was the largest one ever ever undertaken by New Zealand police. Mr Bush said there were 250 specialists and investigators working on the case in New Zealand, with the FBI and Australian authorities also helping with this case.

Information from the investigations in New South Wales was also being shared with authorities here. "We believe there was only one attacker responsible for this horrendous event," he said. But he added other people may be in support of the attacker. Mr Bush said the threat level remained high and there would continue to be an increased police presence around the country.

* See how the day unfolded with RNZ's live blog here

An 18-year-old man appeared in Christchurch District Court today charged with distributing a live stream of the Christchurch mosque shootings. He has also been charged with publishing objectionable publications in the week prior to the attacks, including a photo of the mosque with the words "target identified", and messages inciting extreme violence. Police have said they do not believe he was directly involved in the attacks. The public gallery was cleared for his appearance, where Judge Stephen O'Driscoll decided not to grant him bail.

Earlier, the duty lawyer who represented murder accused Brenton Tarrant at his first court appearance on Saturday confirmed that he was no longer representing him. The accused was represented on the day by duty lawyer Richard Peters. Mr Peters told RNZ Tarrant indicated on the day that he wished to represent himself. The accused is due to reappear on 5 April at the High Court in Christchurch.

Armed police stand guard as Memorial Park Cemetery is prepared for the burial of victims of the Christchurch mass shooting.

Armed police stand guard as Memorial Park Cemetery is prepared for the burial of victims of the Christchurch mass shooting. Photo: RNZ / Matthew Theunissen

Heavily armed police were present at Memorial Park Cemetery in Christchurch as council workers prepared it for the first burials of the victims. Fifty graves have been dug and some of the bodies had been expected to be laid to rest today. The bodies of some of the 50 dead were due to be returned to their families this morning. The bodies were to be washed in accordance with Islamic custom before the burials.

The twin brother of one victim, Junaid Ismail, killed in the Christchurch mosque massacre told Checkpoint he wanted him back and buried as soon as possible. Zahid Ismail said: "I just want one to two things, one is I want him back with us and the other is I want him buried as soon as I can possibly bury him, for the religious belief and that's it."

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