New Zealand has marked the second anniversary of one of its most traumatic days, when 51 worshippers were killed at two Christchurch mosques by a white supremacist gunman.
Several hundred people gathered at the Christchurch Arena on Saturday for the remembrance service, which was also livestreamed.
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Kiran Munir, whose husband Haroon Mahmood was killed in the attacks, told the crowd she had lost the love of her life and her soulmate.
She said her husband was a loving father of their two children. He had just finished a doctoral degree and was looking forward to his graduation ceremony when she last saw his smiling face.
“Little did I know that the next time I would see him the body and soul would not be together,” she said. “Little did I know that the darkest day in New Zealand’s history had dawned. That day my heart broke into a thousand pieces, just like the hearts of the 50 other families.”
In the March 15, 2019, attacks, Australian Brenton Tarrant killed 44 people at the Al Noor mosque during Friday prayers before driving to the Linwood mosque, where he killed seven more.
Last year Tarrant, 30, pleaded guilty to 51 counts of murder, 40 counts of attempted murder and one count of terrorism, He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
After the attacks, New Zealand quickly passed new laws banning the deadliest types of semiautomatic weapons.
Temel Atacocugu, who survived being shot nine times during the attack on the Al Noor mosque, said the slaughter was caused by racism and ignorance.
“They were attacks on all of humanity,” he said, adding that the survivors would never be able to erase the pain in their hearts. “However, the future is in our hands. We will go on and we will be positive together.”
Atacocugu wept as he recalled waiting to be treated with the father of three-year-old Mucaad Ibrahim when they learned the toddler had died.
“Suddenly, my pain seemed insignificant,” he said.
During the service, the names of each of the 51 people killed were read out. The efforts of first responders, including police and medics, were also acknowledged.
Maha Elmadani, who lost her 66-year-old father Ali Mah’d Elmadani in the attacks, spoke at the service on behalf of the affected Muslim youth.
“The pain of losing these 51 lives not only impacted the people of Christchurch, the pain ripped through New Zealand and the rest of the world and continues to be felt,” Elmadani said.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told the crowd that when preparing her speech, she had been at a loss for what to say because words would never change what happened.
“But while words cannot perform miracles, they do have the power to heal,” she said. “There will be an unquestionable legacy from March 15. Much of it will be heartbreaking. But it is never too early or too late for the legacy to be a more inclusive nation.”
Ardern, who was widely praised for the compassion shown to survivors and the families of the victims of the shooting and her swift move to tighten firearms control in New Zealand, said words “despite their healing power” would never change what happened.
“Men, women and children … were taken in an act of terror. Words will not remove the fear that descended over the Muslim community,” she said, adding the legacy should be “a more inclusive nation, one that stands proud of our diversity and embraces it and, if called to, defend it staunchly.”