At New Zealand hospi­tal, fam­i­lies look for answers

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY DAMIEN CAVE AND JAMIE TARABAY

The fam­i­lies drifted from the mosques to the hospi­tal, their emo­tions bat­tered, their eyes blood­shot.

More than a day had passed since the at­tacks on Fri­day that killed 50 peo­ple at two mosques in Christchur­ch, and many still did not know the fate of loved ones they be­lieved were at prayer when the gun­man ar­rived and started fir­ing.

Akhtar Khokhar, who ar­rived two months ago from In­dia to visit her son, had come to the hospi­tal for answers.

“This is my hus­band,” she said, hold­ing up a photo be­fore an imam who was at the hospi­tal to try to help fam­ily mem­bers. He shook his head with un­cer­tainty.

Oth­ers faced sim­i­lar frus­tra­tions, with no firm answers about who had died.

“This is the best they can do?” asked Zuhair Dar­wish, as his brother’s wife in Jor­dan kept call­ing, des­per­ate, want­ing to know whether to plan a funeral.

Hours be­fore, the gun­man who had in­flicted all this pain was charged with one count of mur­der, with dozens more ex­pected.

On Sun­day, New Zealand Po­lice Com­mis­sioner Mike Bush an­nounced that the death toll had risen to 50, ac­cord­ing to Associated Press re­ports. He said 36 vic­tims re­main hos­pi­tal­ized, with two of them in crit­i­cal con­di­tion.

Bush also said that two peo­ple ar­rested around the time sus­pect Bren­ton Har­ri­son Tar­rant was ap­pre­hended are not be­lieved to have been in­volved in the at­tacks on two mosques Fri­day.

He said one of those peo­ple has been re­leased and the other has been charged with firearms of­fenses.

Tar­rant, 28, was ar­raigned Satur­day on the first of many ex­pected mur­der charges. He’s ac­cused of killing 41 peo­ple at one mosque and seven more at a sec­ond. Two vic­tims died later while hos­pi­tal­ized.

Prime Min­is­ter Jacinda Ardern, who flew to Christchur­ch to visit with fam­i­lies, vowed that “our gun laws will change –

now is the time.” Min­utes be­fore the shoot­ing be­gan on Fri­day, Ardern was emailed a copy of the racist man­i­festo pur­ported to be from the gun­man.

On Satur­day evening, Dar­wish, like many oth­ers, still could not be­lieve where the hor­ror had landed him: in a hospi­tal cafe­te­ria, re­named a “rel­a­tives room,” that was crowded with grief and hot with anger.

Dozens of fam­ily mem­bers – teenagers in T-shirts, grand­moth­ers in head­scarves, bearded men in jeans – were there, squeezed to­gether and press­ing for in­for­ma­tion from over­whelmed of­fi­cials.

“It’s il­le­gal to hide the names from us!” Dar­wish shouted at a po­lice of­fi­cial, who was field­ing ques­tions while stand­ing on a chair at the back of the room, where few could hear him. “You have to pro­vide them!”

This was not where they be­longed, many of the sur­vivors said.

Blood­shed, ter­ror­ism and fear were what some of them had left be­hind, flee­ing coun­tries like Pak­istan, Afghanista­n and So­ma­lia. Oth­ers were born here, used to rel­a­tive quiet and peace. But in the land of emer­ald green rugby pitches, ha­tred found them all any­way.

They re­sponded with the full range of hu­man emo­tion. Walk­ing be­tween the mosques and the hospi­tal re­vealed count­less ex­am­ples of tears and out­rage. There was de­bil­i­tat­ing sad­ness. There was con­fu­sion, but also the kind of love you see in hugs that hold tight and bring tears with­out con­cern for who is look­ing.

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