I remember the breaking news headline coming onto Facebook, “mass shooting at Christchurch mosque as police respond to ‘active shooter’ situation,” from One News.
I was sitting at uni in Wellington with a mate and we both started to choke on the horror unfolding down south.
Caught in disbelief by what was going on similar to others around us who were starting to take notice of the situation.
“What the f***?” Was the first thing that came to mind. How could this possibly happen here, in little old Christchurch? The place I had grown up in, a place many of my friends grew up in, and knew so well.
How could it happen in our country? It was so not New Zealand. Not the place I or anyone I’ve spoken to admitted to know. An unfamiliar and ugly picture painted in a disgusting and shocking way.
Everyone felt so lost and helpless. Like bystanders to a disaster. Just having to watch with no power to change what was unfolding.
Initial thoughts were to contact friends and whānau (family) down in Christchurch to check in and make sure they were alright. The death toll was reported by the Police as six people at that stage with many more injured.
Earlier that Friday I was attending a climate change protest at parliament with school students from all across the region. Some of whom were as young as 11 years old.
There had been massive hype all week with controversy around kids skipping school to be at the climate change rally.
A group of work mates all came together to show our support in the marches. Cheering on the brave speakers and the screeds of people with picket signs protesting things like, “sorry for the inconvenience but we’re just trying to save the world.”
I was inspired by those kids to consider how my actions affected the world. My friends around me had tears cuddling their eyes. We were so honoured and humbled to live in a country where people, young people, would stand up for what is right, even if it were against the views of the powers that be.
A stark contrast to the terrorist attacks that would happen only a couple hours later. The climate change protests were part of an international movement to protest practical ways of reducing the affects on climate change.
One of the rally’s was also in Christchurch. Reports from police talked about how the kids involved in the protest were being locked down around the city, in schools, and community centres. Workers were also kept in their workplaces out of fear from the monster who was terrorising the city.
It felt like the world was caving in. Walking home I couldn’t help but feel awful for the families of victims and the devastating news they must have been receiving from authorities about their missing loved ones.
Nine confirmed dead, dozens of people still missing and many injured. By the time I reached home I needed to be sick. It was so painful to hear that mosques were being told to stay closed. This step changed everything.
A group of people were being stopped from congregating in a community that they know, love, and connect to because of one mans despicable tyranny in a place they thought was home. In a place we all thought was home.
Our Prime Minister put it so gently that “they are us” because we all share the same home. in her statement that evening referring to the Muslim community.
Later on my flat mate and I sat in our lounge for hours contemplating what all this stuff meant to us. We made calls to our loved ones, like what everyone was doing. Desperately trying to process and make sense of the shitty situation.
For the rest of the weekend we did what everyone else did. We wept as the tragic death toll rose to fifty people. We heard stories of the victims who were taken away.
One of whom was only 14 years old, and was a year ten at Cashmere High School. The same high school my flat mate and I both went to. We reflected on this in shock, because he would have shared the same journey as us.
He would have brought food from the same tuck shop as us, worried about the same homework as us, and played games on the same fields as us. Worried about the same issues with talking to girls as us, had the same teachers as us, and was led by the same principal as us.
He still had so much to do, he was only a boy. Someone who should still be worried about the same stuff every teenage boy should have to. Like being anxious about what university or job he wants to go to, or what to say to that beautiful girl in his maths class.
Not a victim of a bloody attack by a heinous criminal and stolen from the world and a family who loves him. Nobody deserves that. No family should have to bare that pain.
With all the tears, confusion and suffering many hopeful things have happened in our community. Together, in support of those families who lost loved ones, over $4.9 Million New Zealand dollars was raised through our local crowd fundraising page, Givealittle.
Our Prime Minister announced that gun laws will face serious reform and changes will be enacted as a result of the shootings.
Thousands of people have shared their love, admiration, and respect for the Muslim community and for everyone who calls New Zealand their home.
Public vigils have been setup around the country and in other parts of the world to show respect to those who died.
We went to pay our respects with over 11,000 other Wellingtonians. Although it was two days after the terrorist attacks, the tears on the faces of people in the crowd showed that the effects were still so fresh.
During the service we were reminded about the bravery of the emergency services teams, in the St Johns Ambulance services, Police, and special forces who actively worked on saving lives, and making sure we could still feel safe in our homes, and in public.
Though it was clear, that the mood of our nation had changed indefinitely, with a massive police presence roaming the Basin Reserve, some with rifles in their hands.
A stark contrast to the relaxed, smiley faced police I had observed only two days earlier at the steps of parliament surrounded by children protesting for climate change.
The speeches also shared a spotlight on the existing racism the Muslim community faced before the attacks happened in the mosques of Christchurch.
A harsh reminder that hate already festered in parts of their community and we didn’t even take any notice of it.
After the vigil, my flat mate and I watched from our window across the road from the venue as thousands of people quietly left the grounds.
We reflected on the closure it provided. That discussing the awful tragedy that has happened helped to reassure that we live in a strong but grieving community.
A place full of good people willing to go above and beyond to put their differences aside and be there for one another when it counts the most.
We were reminded that New Zealanders are a tough, thick skinned, quick witted, dry humoured, serious but casual, jandal wearing people full of love and compassion.
A group of people who laugh at things like ghost chips, Taika Waititi movies, and silly political statements like the egging of an Australian Senator.
It’s not about one maniacal mans inhumane manifesto but instead about good humans doing extraordinary things to uplift the mana of others who aren’t managing to live in a world they thought they knew.
What truly upset me was the feeling that the place I thought was home was a safe place. Free from terrorism and extreme racism.
But it shouldn’t have. Because the kind of person who would do this sort of thing is not a person but a monster who represents nothing. No country, no religion.
We celebrate those who still fill our beautiful country. The ones we love and those we know. The communities who share it with us. The kids who march the streets in protest. Or the spirits of those lost that day.
We will mourn for them because we cannot ever forget what happened to them. But we must move on with hope.
Because this is our home.