WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Mass shootings at two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch resulted in multiple fatalities, police said Friday. One person was taken into custody.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said it was “one of New Zealand’s darkest days.”
Armed police were deployed after the first shooting, about 1:40 p.m. local time on Friday. All Christchurch schools were placed in lockdown. Television New Zealand showed pictures of multiple ambulances arriving at Christchurch Hospital, and said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has canceled all engagements.
Radio New Zealand reported that shots were fired at a mosque near Hagley Park where hundreds of people were praying. It said an eyewitness saw a man wearing a helmet and glasses and a military-style jacket open fire inside the mosque. One person saw four people lying on the ground and said “there was blood everywhere,” RNZ reported.
Witness Len Peneha said he saw a man dressed in black enter the Masjid Al Noor mosque in central Christchurch about 1:45 p.m. and then heard dozens of shots, followed by people running from the mosque in terror.
Peneha, who has lived next door to the mosque for about five years, said the gunman ran out of the mosque, dropped what appeared to be a semiautomatic weapon in Peneha’s driveway, and fled.
Peneha said he went into the mosque to try and help.
“I saw dead people everywhere. There were three in the hallway, at the door leading into the mosque, and people inside the mosque,” he said. “It’s unbelievable, nutty. I don’t understand how anyone could do this to these people, to anyone. It’s ridiculous.”
He said the gunman was white and was wearing a helmet with some kind of device on top, giving him a military-type appearance.
The New Zealand Herald reported there was a second shooting at the Linwood Masjid Mosque.
Mark Nichols told the Herald that he heard about five gunshots and that a Friday prayer goer returned fire with a rifle or shotgun. Nichols said that he saw two injured people being carried out on stretchers past his automotive shop and that both people appeared to be alive.
New Zealand historically has had only a handful of mass-shooting events.