The death toll for the deadly terror attack that targeted two mosques in the city of Christchurch, New Zealand, on Friday rose to 50, Police Commissioner Mike Bush said in a press conference Sunday morning.
Another 50 people were injured, 36 of whom remain in hospital, he said..
This marks the worst mass shooting in New Zealand’s history and one of the deadliest in the world in recent history.
A 28-year-old Australian man, Brenton Tarrant, has been charged with murder and made his first court appearance Saturday morning. Two other suspects remain in police custody, the New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush said on Saturday, and police are working to determine whether they had any involvement in the massacre.
Bush said Tarrant had a Category A license which allowed him to purchase and own a firearm. The suspect had no prior criminal convictions and was not known to either New Zealand or Australian police.
Witnesses reported that the gunman entered one of the city’s mosques and immediately opened fire on worshippers.
As the attack was unfolding, a 16-minute livestreamed video of the shooting was posted to Facebook, where it quickly spread across the platform, as well as on YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter.
In the video, which appears to have been streamed using a helmet camera the gunman was wearing, the suspect can be seen driving to the Al Noor Mosque. The camera continues to film as he walks toward the building and begins firing at people near the doorway, then walks indoors and shoots the worshippers inside for several minutes.
When he finally leaves the mosque and gets back in his car, he can be seen aiming his gun out the window and firing shots as he drives.
Authorities said the gunman then drove to the Linwood Mosque, some three miles away, and opened fire again. Bush said it took the gunman fewer than seven minutes to go from one mosque to the other. He was taken into police custody within 36-minutes of the first call to authorities.
Bush said it is likely that Tarrant was the shooter at both scenes, but the commissioner could not immediately confirm whether or not the other suspects were involved.
Bush confirmed that 41 people were killed at the Al Noor Mosque and seven were killed at the Linwood Mosque. One more person died at a hospital.
Brenton Tarrant was identified in court after his name was widely reported in connection with the attack. He has been charged with murder. He will next appear before the high court on April 5, where he could face additional charges.
Ardern said the suspect had used five guns in the attack, including two semiautomatic weapons, two shotguns, and a “lever-action firearm” that he purchased legally with a gun license he obtained in November 2017.
“I can tell you one thing right now: our gun laws will change,” Ardern said. “Now is the time for change.”
Ardern said investigators are working to piece together the suspect’s history, including a timeline of his travels in recent years. She said he traveled to a number of countries, but was sporadically in and out of New Zealand, most recently living in the city of Dunedin.
She said though he wasn’t on the radar of intelligence agencies, authorities will be investigating whether any of his activity on social media “should have triggered a response.”
World leaders condemn the attack, police heighten security at mosques
A number of world leaders have condemned the attack and expressed sympathy for New Zealand. President Donald Trump tweeted Friday afternoon EST that he had spoken with Ardern about the massacre and expressed his support.
“I informed the Prime Minister … that we stand in solidarity with New Zealand – and that any assistance the U.S.A. can give, we stand by ready to help. We love you New Zealand!” he wrote.
Commissioner Bush also said security across New Zealand had been heightened with extra patrols at mosques. He said officers were not aware of any other specific threats, but urged New Zealanders to be “vigilant” in the wake of the attack.
“We have staff around the country ensuring that everyone is kept safe, and that includes our armed defenders and special tactics groups right across the country being very vigilant and having a presence around all of our mosques,” he said Friday.
‘A deliberate decision to target our city and our country was because we are a safe city and a safe country’
Ardern said Friday she thought New Zealand was targeted because of its diversity and acceptance of people from all cultures.
“We New Zealanders were not chosen for this act of violence because we condone this racism, or because we are an enclave of extremism — we were chosen for the very fact that we are none of these things,” she said.
Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel echoed those sentiments during a press conference Saturday morning, telling reporters she believes the city was targeted due to its reputation for being a safe city.
“This was, as I understand it, a deliberate decision to target our city and our country was because we are a safe city and a safe country. And that was the message,” Dalziel said. “And my response to the choice of Christchurch by this terrorist individual who chooses to terrorize our city: it is an act of cowardice that he has performed.”
On Friday night, police were investigating a house 200 miles from the site of the shootings in connection with the attack.
“We urge New Zealanders to stay vigilant and report any suspicious behavior immediately to 111,” Bush said.
Authorities have confirmed that livestreamed footage of the shooting was still circulating on social media.
“Police is aware there are distressing materials related to this event circulating widely online. We would urge anyone who has been affected by seeing these materials to seek appropriate support,” Bush said in his statement Saturday.