Hor­ror of mas­sacre streamed to ‘lads’

The Weekend Australian - - FRONT PAGE -

If you poured all the hate in the world into a first-per­son video game, set against the des­per­ate cries of real peo­ple dy­ing and the cold nar­ra­tion of a gun­man deaf to their pleas, this is what it would look and sound like.

We see them on the screen, 20 bod­ies or more, life­less in the cor­ner of a Christchurch prayer room. He ca­su­ally ap­proaches, know­ing they are be­yond run­ning away or fight­ing back, and fires more bul­lets into each one.

Two of the dead are young chil­dren, both boys, hud­dling to­gether on a couch. One boy has his mouth open. We’ll never know what life they might have led.

He walks across the green car­pet of the prayer room to the op­po­site cor­ner, to an­other tan­gle of the dy­ing and dead. There are per­haps 10 or more but he isn’t count­ing. He shoots into them, into their flesh, un­til he is cer­tain no one can still be breath­ing. No one is. Five min­utes af­ter he starts shoot­ing, he is the only per­son still alive in­side the Al Noor mosque. He has run out of peo­ple to kill. It be­gins in a car, a Subaru wagon. We are driv­ing through the streets of Christchurch, in the viewfinder of a man dressed in bat­tle fa­tigues and car­ry­ing an ar­moury of mil­i­tary-style ri­fles.

“Re­mem­ber lads,’’ he tells us. “Sub­scribe to PewDiePie.’’ It is the name of a Swedish YouTu­ber, a gamer who livestreams to a mas­sive global au­di­ence while he kills zom­bies and mon­strous en­e­mies.

The worst mass shoot­ing in New Zealand’s his­tory is also be­ing livestreamed, a grotesque, nextstep evo­lu­tion of our dig­i­tal ob­ses­sion.

The drive is set to a seem­ingly in­con­gru­ous sound­track, a jaunty Euro­pean folk song. Be­neath the melody, there is a sin­is­ter mes­sage. The song was writ­ten to cel­e­brate Ser­bia’s war against Bos­nia and the eth­nic cleans­ing of Mus­lims from the Balkans. To any­one fa­mil­iar with it, the aim of this evil game is clear.

We see his face just once, when he takes off his hel­met and flips the Go­Pro cam­era around. His name is Bren­ton Tar­rant, a 28-year-old Aus­tralian who has been liv­ing in Christchurch, plan­ning his at­tack on the mosque, for three months. He has pale skin, short brown hair and light eyes.

“Righto lads. An­other cou­ple of min­utes,’’ he tells us.

He is wear­ing pro­tec­tive knee pads and gloves. A yel­low, pines­cented air fresh­ener dan­gles from the rear-view mir­ror.

The mu­sic shifts to the flute and snare of the British Gre­nadiers, the march­ing tune used by the British

red­coats against Amer­ica’s rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies. He is go­ing to war against an en­emy un­armed and un­aware.

He is walk­ing from the car down the foot­path and across the ce­ment park­ing lot at the front of the mosque. He is car­ry­ing a shot­gun but the man who greets him in the door­way ei­ther doesn’t see the weapon or doesn’t un­der­stand in time. “Hello brother,’’ the man calls. He doesn’t an­swer. His re­sponse is nine shots in rapid suc­ces­sion.

The man is dead be­fore the gun­man crosses the thresh­old. An­other tries to run but he guns him down, drop­ping the empty shot­gun and switch­ing to semi­au­to­matic ri­fle.

We are now in the main prayer room.

He has timed his at­tack with Fri­day af­ter­noon prayer, the busiest prayer time in the Mus­lim week. He stands in the mid­dle of the room, emp­ty­ing one clip af­ter an­other into the ter­ri­fied mass of peo­ple, trapped in the far cor­ners of the room.

The mu­sic has stopped. The only sound is the rat-a-tat of gun- fire, the only in­ter­rup­tion the chang­ing of clips. A place of god, of com­mu­nity and wor­ship, is a slaugh­ter­house. His re­gret is that some get away.

“There wasn’t even time to aim given there were so many tar­gets,’’ he later tells us in a mor­bid de­brief. “There were so many peo­ple. “A lot of them sur­vived, un­for­tu­nately. They all ran pretty quickly.

“I left one full mag­a­zine back there, I know for sure. Pos­si­bly more. I had to run along, in the mid­dle of the fire­fight, and pick up the mag that fell out.’’

A “fire­fight”, he calls it. This is his imag­in­ing of a glo­ri­ous bat­tle. Boys and old men shel­ter­ing in a cor­ner from a heav­ily armed as­sailant. Wor­ship­pers in blue jeans and tra­di­tional dress, climb­ing over one an­other, claw­ing at closed win­dows, in the pan­icked fi­nal mo­ments of their lives.

He be­lieves he is some­one, fight­ing for some­thing. On the bar­rel of one of his guns, he has scrawled a mes­sage: “This is for Ebba Ak­er­lund.’’

Ebba Ak­er­lund was a Swedish school­girl killed two years ago when an Uzbek mi­grant stole a truck and ploughed it into pedes­tri­ans at a Stock­holm shop­ping cen­tre. She was 11 years old, the youngest of five vic­tims of a hor­rific ter­ror at­tack.

She was as de­fence­less as the wor­ship­pers now lay­ing dead in­side the Christchurch mosque.

He takes us out­side the mosque, walk­ing with quick steps.

In the af­ter­noon sun­light, he can see a woman across the yard, shoes in hand, try­ing to es­cape through a side gate. He hasn’t killed a woman yet. All the peo­ple in­side the mosque were men.

He shoots. She is hit but dis­ap­pears from view. He runs through the front gate and finds her, no more than 15m away, ly­ing on the pave­ment. He shoots again. And again.

He steals a look back down the street to make sure no one is com­ing. He turns and walks pur­posely to­wards the woman. “Help me,’’ she cries. “Help me.’’

She has rolled into the gut­ter, ly­ing face­down on the bi­tu­men. She can hear his foot­steps but can­not see his face. Her shoes sit aban­doned on the pave­ment. They are fash­ion­able train­ers, the shoes of a young woman. “Help me,’’ she cries. “Help me.’’

He shoots her in the back of the head. From point-blank range, he shoots her twice.

In the days to come, we’ll know her name, who she was, who loved her. On the screen, she is just one more dead. Two lit­tle pops.

The woman dies me­tres from where he parked the Subaru. Its tail­gate is open. Its boot is loaded with red plas­tic jerry cans of petrol. For ev­ery life he has taken, for all those he will ruin, he hasn’t done ev­ery­thing he came to do.

The sound­track shifts again. We hear the open­ing lyric of The Prodigy song, Hell­fire: “I am the god of hell­fire, and I bring you, fire.’’ We are driv­ing again. Faster than be­fore. He talks, like a wired teenager on Xbox, about what we’ve just seen. He’s ea­ger to play again. He wants to keep killing.

The Christchurch streets blur past. The words leach through the screen like poi­son.

A ‘fire­fight’, he calls it. This is his imag­in­ing of a glo­ri­ous bat­tle. Boys and old men shel­ter­ing from a heav­ily armed as­sailant

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