'I never thought in a million years something like this could happen'

5:22 pm on 20 March 2019

Up to 500 family members and friends of the dead have been gathering at a centre set up in Christchurch, creating a place where everyone can come together and grieve together.

Auckland laywer Umar Kuddus has been helping out there and tells Morning Report people still haven't really been able to start to process what's happened.

"I never thought in a million years something like this could happen," Kuddas said.

He was born and lives in Auckland and was finishing Friday prayers when he saw a text from his mother about a shooting in Christchurch.

"At that point I didn't register the gravity or the scope of it. I thought it may have been a minor issue.

"When I first got back to my office, that's when I found out the scale of it."

Kuddas says he unfortunately saw the 17 minute video clip of the attack.

"I started watching the clip without knowing what it was and I was shocked to the point that I couldn't put my phone down. Some of the images are still with me and it's quite terrifying."

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He said that the video doesn't represent what the inside of a mosque looks like and implored people to visit one in their local community.

"The way he treated our mosque, our safe haven, is just sickening. Absolutely sickening."

Kuddas said the centre was set up as a place for families and the community to come together and grieve together.

"I don't think anyone has really started to process what's happened.

"It's difficult for us that have lived in New Zealand all their lives to even start to imagine what has happened or what our mosque looks like inside.

"We've always seen this on TV and on the internet happening to other places - whether it be to us as Muslims or to other societies, but we never thought that something like this could ever happen here. That was probably the biggest shock that each and every one of us are faced with.

Mr Kuddus says a steady stream of non-Muslims has been coming by and helping out.

"The support and love that Christchurch has shown us, and not only Christchurch in fact all New Zealand, is just heartwarming."

The centre has councillors and health professionals from the DHB helping with the victims. Lawyers are also available - pro bono - for families coming from overseas and needing visas.

"We've got everyone from all walks of life volunteering and helping out."

Kuddas says one man's story, in particular, has stuck with him.

"On Sunday night, I met a gentleman who was the last survivor from the Deans Avenue mosque, and the way he described what he [the shooter] did when he came in the second or third time round and all that - that was really difficult for me to process."

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