New Zealand premier or­ders in­quiry as por­trait of shoot­ing sus­pect emerges

The Buffalo News - - WORLD NEWS - By Emily Steel

DUNEDIN, New Zealand – The gun en­thu­si­ast with light brown hair and an Aus­tralian ac­cent did not stand out among the 100 or so mem­bers of the Bruce Ri­fle Club, who prac­ticed shoot­ing at a range in a for­est in south­ern New Zealand.

He fa­vored a bolt-ac­tion hunt­ing ri­fle and an AR-15 semi-au­to­matic ri­fle and would par­tic­i­pate in shoot­ing com­pe­ti­tions. No one saw any warn­ing signs.

“He was po­lite,” said Scott Wil­liams, the club’s vice pres­i­dent. “He would help put things away. He would help set up. He worked like a Tro­jan.”

But now New Zealand of­fi­cials are won­der­ing if any­one might have missed some­thing about Bren­ton Har­ri­son Tar­rant, the 28-year-old sus­pect in the shoot­ings at two mosques in Christchurch on Fri­day that left at least 50 peo­ple dead.

On Mon­day, Prime Min­is­ter Jacinda Ardern said she had or­dered an in­quiry into whether gov­ern­ment agen­cies could have pre­vented the at­tack.

“The pur­pose of this in­quiry is to look at what all rel­e­vant agen­cies knew – or could or should have known – about the in­di­vid­ual and his ac­tiv­i­ties, in­clud­ing his ac­cess to weapons,” she said at a news con­fer­ence in Welling­ton, the cap­i­tal.

She also said her Cab­i­net had agreed “in prin­ci­ple” to an over­haul of the coun­try’s gun laws and was work­ing out the de­tails.

“Within 10 days of this hor­rific act of ter­ror­ism, we will have an­nounced re­forms that I be­lieve will have made our com­mu­nity safer,” Ardern said.

Ear­lier, Wally Haumaha, deputy New Zealand po­lice com­mis­sioner, said iden­ti­fi­ca­tion spe­cial­ists had worked through the night to iden­tify the peo­ple killed at the Al Noor and Lin­wood mosques so that their bodies could be re­turned to their fam­i­lies. Is­lamic lead­ers and vic­tims’ rel­a­tives have been dis­cussing whether to hold a burial for all 50 vic­tims at once, pos­si­bly Wed­nes­day. As of Mon­day night, 31 peo­ple were hos­pi­tal­ized in Christchurch, nine of them in crit­i­cal con­di­tion. A 4-year-old was in crit­i­cal con­di­tion at a hos­pi­tal in Auck­land, where she was flown after the at­tack.

Po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tions con­tin­ued, as coun­tert­er­ror­ism of­fi­cers in Aus­tralia searched the homes of Tar­rant’s mother and sis­ter in the north­east­ern coastal towns of Lawrence and Sandy Beach.

And in New Zealand, more than half a dozen po­lice of­fi­cers searched Tar­rant’s res­i­dence near the cen­ter of Dunedin, about 220 miles south of Christchurch. The blue-gray house had air-con­di­tion­ing units, wide, rec­tan­gu­lar win­dows with open cur­tains, an over­grown yard and a mail­box with a sticker read­ing: “NO JUNK MAIL. Thank you!”

Two weeks be­fore the at­tack, Tar­rant’s one-bed­room, one-bath­room home was listed on­line as avail­able for rent start­ing April 2, ac­cord­ing to a cached ver­sion of the post that has since ex­pired.

Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan of Turkey said Mon­day that Tar­rant made two trips to the coun­try in 2016, one for three days and the other for 43 days. Turk­ish of­fi­cials said they were in­ves­ti­gat­ing what he did there.

Few de­tails have emerged about Tar­rant’s life. It is un­clear whether he had a job. Sev­eral neigh­bors said they did not know many of their neigh­bors and had not met Tar­rant.

Wil­liams said that the Bruce Ri­fle Club was co­op­er­at­ing with the po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion and that it was closed un­til fur­ther no­tice.

By the time Tar­rant joined the club, he had al­ready started buy­ing firearms from Gun City, one of New Zealand’s largest gun re­tail­ers. David Tip­ple, the man­ag­ing di­rec­tor, said his com­pany had sold Tar­rant four firearms along with am­mu­ni­tion be­tween De­cem­ber 2017 – a month after Tar­rant re­ceived his gun li­cense – and March 2018.

Tip­ple said Tar­rant’s on­line pur­chases had not raised any red flags.

“He was a brand-new pur­chaser, with a brand-new li­cense,” he said.

Dar­ren Ja­cobs, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Hunt­ing & Fish­ing New Zealand, con­firmed Mon­day that the re­tailer’s Dunedin branch had sold Tar­rant a bolt-ac­tion hunt­ing ri­fle in 2017.

Still a mys­tery is the source of a semi-au­to­matic ri­fle that can be seen in a video of the at­tack on Al Noor Mosque. Tip­ple said it did not come from Gun City.

The de­tails of Tar­rant’s ar­se­nal emerged as New Zealand con­sid­ers tight­en­ing its gun reg­u­la­tions. Among the leg­isla­tive changes the prime min­is­ter is likely to con­sider are a ban on semi-au­to­matic weapons and laws re­quir­ing that all firearms be reg­is­tered and all gun sales recorded.

Trade Me, New Zealand’s big­gest on­line mar­ket­place, said Mon­day that it had re­moved all semi-au­to­matic firearms and re­lated parts from its site in re­sponse to cus­tomer con­cerns.

Also Mon­day, a teenager charged with cre­at­ing and dis­tribut­ing ob­jec­tion­able ma­te­ri­als made his first ap­pear­ance in a Christchurch court. Pros­e­cu­tors say the 18-year-old, whose name and iden­ti­fy­ing de­tails have been sup­pressed, pub­lished a photo of Al Noor Mosque with the mes­sage “Tar­get ac­quired” a week be­fore the shoot­ings. He did not en­ter a plea and was re­manded into cus­tody un­til his next court ap­pear­ance in April.

The po­lice said that they did not be­lieve he was in­volved in the at­tack.

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