How New Zealand Has Come Together Since The Christchurch Shootings

Mar 22, 2019
Originally published on March 22, 2019 6:36 pm
Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

One week after the terror attack that killed 50 people at two mosques in the city of Christchurch, the government of New Zealand broadcast the Muslim call to prayer from one of those mosques.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Praying in foreign language).

KELLY: Thousands of people attended today's service, including Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. In a statement, she quoted the Prophet Muhammad.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER JACINDA ARDERN: The believers in their mutual kindness, compassion and sympathy are just like one body. When any part of the body suffers, the whole body feels pain. New Zealand mourns with you. We are one.

KELLY: Among those there and listening, NPR's Rob Schmitz. He has been in New Zealand all week. He joins me now. Hey, Rob.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Sounds like this was incredibly emotional yet again today. What was it like to be at this prayer service?

SCHMITZ: Yeah, I think the service helped the country and the community heal. After the prayer, I ran into someone named Akmal Ali, who just arrived from Auckland. A family member of his was shot but is OK. And his best friend was shot in the lower back. He survived, but he's never going to walk properly again. Ali talked to me about the shooter, and here's what he said.

AKMAL ALI: I don't have any grief for him because I forgive him from my heart. I don't know other people. But today, what I'm seeing here, I see love only.

KELLY: I see love only. It's a lovely sentiment. What's it, for you, Rob, been like just tracking the stages of grief that you have been watching people go through as you've interviewed them this week?

SCHMITZ: Yeah, this is a country that's, in many ways, lost its innocence. You know, I feel like I'm leaving a different country than what I arrived to a week ago. When I flew in last Saturday, everyone I met was in a state of shock. I spent my first day at the family crisis center. As a journalist, I wasn't supposed to be there. But a member of the mosque I met that day snuck me in.

I sat at a table and just watched everything that was unfolding around me, and it was pretty heartbreaking. One man told me about cradling his 3-year-old who had died. Another told me about an uncle he had lost who, when he was 2-years-old, had smuggled him out of Afghanistan to flee the Taliban. And they both made it here and thought they were safe.

But as the week went on and we learned more about the nature of what happened from the police and the government, grief sort of gave way to this big call for change.

KELLY: Right, which was - expressed itself most tangibly through changing the gun laws. When you arrived, it was legal in New Zealand to own an assault rifle, now it is not. Owners are handing their guns in. Could you track the conversation shifting in the days you've been there?

SCHMITZ: You could. You know, by about Monday or Tuesday, you could sort of feel things changing. A lot of people actually didn't even know that semi-automatic weapons were legal here. And when they found out, they wanted them banned. And less than a week later, an entire class of weapons was suddenly banned. I mean, that's pretty incredible change in the course of a week.

KELLY: It is remarkable. So I wonder if you have a parting thought. You're flying out today back to Shanghai, a parting thought on just covering a transformative tragedy for New Zealand.

SCHMITZ: Yeah, something happened today that I'd like to share. My first morning, I went to the only mosque in Christchurch that was not attacked. I wasn't sure how they'd receive me. But when I knocked on the door, a man named Abdul answered. He's a short guy. He's from Fiji. He has a long beard.

And he immediately took my hand. And he said, hello, brother. Come in. Sit down. Eat breakfast with us. It was just automatic. And suddenly, I was on this carpet with him, an imam and three others. And later that day, Abdul smuggled me into the family crisis center so that...

KELLY: Oh, he was the one who got you in.

SCHMITZ: ...I could meet the victims' families. He was the guy. And then later in the week, I didn't think I'd see him again. But later in the week, when I attended the first burial, I wasn't sure if I'd be able to get in. But when I entered the cemetery, I saw Abdul.

He was there because many of his friends had been killed. And he was helping to bury one of them. And he rushed over to me. And he put his arm around my shoulder. And again, he got me inside. It sort of felt like all week, this one incredibly friendly man sort of magically appeared whenever I needed access.

So today, after the national prayer, I wanted to see the mosque one last time. So I'm wading through, you know, thousands of people. And I go up to the police perimeter. And I was taking pictures. And then someone taps me on the shoulder. And, you know, sure enough, it's Abdul.

KELLY: It's Abdul.

SCHMITZ: He was the first person that I met on my trip. And as fate would have it, he was the last person. He was on his way to help bury 26 people from his community. But he stopped. And he gave me a very big hug to say goodbye. And he began to cry. And he said, I love you, brother. And all week, I've been pretty successful at keeping my emotions in check. But at that moment, I failed to do that.

KELLY: An emotional end to what has been an emotional week reporting on this tragedy in New Zealand. That's NPR's Rob Schmitz signing off from Christchurch. Thank you for your reporting, Rob.

SCHMITZ: Oh, thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.