Mixed feelings and emotions ahead of Christchurch attacks memorial

12:33 pm on 13 March 2020

Sunday will mark a year since the Christchurch mosque shootings, but there were mixed feelings as to whether the event should go ahead.

Tony Green, Masjid An-Nur spokesperson.

Al Noor Mosque spokesperson Tony Green. Photo: RNZ/ Eden Fusitu’a

The attack began at Al Noor Mosque on Deans Ave. Mosque spokesperson Tony Green told Morning Report today's Friday prayers would be more complicated than usual.

"It's what we do every Friday, congregational prayer... but it's not just another Friday."

They will be held together with the Linwood Mosque at Horncastle Arena due to the numbers they expect.

"It will follow the normal pattern but there will be dua - invocations - for those who've passed on."

Green said the idea of a memorial of the 15 March terror attack doesn't fit in with Islam.

But he said this is different because of the wider impact of the attack, which killed 51 people and injured scores more.

Many in the community were unhappy with the memorial going ahead and the Dunedin City Council decided not to hold commemorations after talking to the local Muslim Association.

A Canterbury Muslim Association spokesperson told the Otago Daily Times it was not involved with organising the Christchurch service but understood New Zealanders wanted to mark the occasion.

"The idea of a memorial doesn't fit in one sense with what we do because we see things in terms of a life beyond this - whatever you do in this life prepares you for the life beyond. So, in a sense, memorialising is a constant," Green said.

However, he said this event is different because it also affected the wider community.

"It's not just us, it's way beyond us," he said.

"Forgetfulness is the human condition and that means we can't afford to forget this because we've said consistently we do not want this to happen to anybody else."

Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel told Morning Report the city wanted to commemorate the attacks the right way.

Lianne Dalziel at Al Noor Mosque.

Lianne Dalziel at Al Noor Mosque. Photo: RNZ/ Eden Fusitu’a

"That concept of coming together is very much the concept of Sunday's remembrance service. But, also that sense of love and compassion which was something that the Muslim communities themselves asked for."

The officer who was in charge of police operations on the ground in Christchurch that day, Canterbury district commander Superintendent John Price, told Morning Report the ripple effect of the attacks is ongoing.

"It wasn't just the day, it wasn't the weeks, it wasn't the months, it will be the years. I think, as a community, that unity getting together, supporting each other is going to be critical for us to get through this as a country," Price said.

John Price at Al Noor Mosque.

John Price at Al Noor Mosque. Photo: RNZ/ Eden Fusitu’a

He said the positive thing that came out of the events is that we have unity and more members of the community are standing up and saying 'it's not OK' to show violence and harm towards others in the community.

"We all, as a society, own this terror. We need to be able to stand up together and be really clear around the messages. If you're unsure about something, tell us - we're here to help."

Price said he was incredibly proud not just of the police on the day, but the first responders, hospital staff, and the wider community for pitching in to help.

"For me, it was the hardest day in my 33 years as a police officer. When someone tears at the very heart of what you stand for, which is peace and justice, it tears that out. Especially when it's your community. It's a community I have guardianship of.

"But for me, the way our people responded, they were all heroes no matter what role they had. And that heroic activity happens everyday in policing."

On the day of the attacks, a couple of men ran into the hospital saying wounded people were on their way there. That was all the warning they got.

Dr Dominic Fleischer, the Emergency Specialist who was in charge of emergency department on the day, and Melissa Evans, who is the Trauma Coordinator joined Morning Report to talk about what happened that day.

Dr Dominic Fleischer and Melissa Evans from Christchurch Hospital.

Dr Dominic Fleischer and Melissa Evans. Photo: RNZ/ Eden Fusitu’a

Dr Fleischer said the events of the 2011 Christchurch earthquake were of a similar scale and were still seared into their memories.

"That helped us immensely in how the hospital, as a whole, responded. Nonetheless, getting that many critically injured people arrive in such a short time is something you can never train for. You can never simulate such an event," Dr Fleischer said.

He said the day went better than could have planned or imagined.

"The outcomes speak for themselves, the hospital worked so well together because we worked together as a team. Egos were put aside and patients flowed through remarkably smoothly, straight to where they needed to go. I'm immensely proud of what the hospital did that day," Dr Fleischer said.

Evans said gunshot wounds on that scale were something completely different for the hospital.

"A lot of the staff in Christchurch have got resilience because of being around the earthquake and other things that have happened," she said.

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