At New Zealand hospital, families look for answers
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.