Christchurch mosque massacre death toll rises to 50 people as identities of victims emerge

The death toll from the Christchurch massacre has risen to 50 people as more of the identities of those killed and those still missing emerge.

Australian man Brenton Tarrant remains the only person to be charged with murder over the attacks on two mosques on Friday.

Police have been piecing together what has been described as a complex event, following the shocking shooting spree, which authorities have confirmed was a terror attack.

New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush on Sunday told reporters four other people arrested during Friday’s police operation have either been released or charged with “tangential” offences.

A man and a woman were held in custody while police investigated their involvement, if any, in the two shooting attacks.

Some of the victims of the Christchurch massacre from top left clockwise are Husne Ara Parvin, Farhaj Ahsan, Mucad Ibrahim, Haroon Mahmood, Haji-Daoud Nabi, Naeem Rashid, Lilik Abdul Hamid and Sayyad Milne. Source: 7News

Mr Bush said the woman has since been released without charge.

“The man in the vehicle has been charged with firearms offences. At this point, we do not believe that they were involved in these attacks,” Mr Bush.

A third man, aged 18, has also been charged, but is not believed to have been directly involved in the attacks.

“What I can say is that an 18-year-old man will appear in court on Monday but that arrest was tangential to this matter and we do not believe that he was involved in this attack either,” Mr Bush said.

A fourth person taken into custody has since been released.

Two people still critical

Mr Bush revealed on Sunday a 50th victim had been found, while 50 people had been wounded in the shootings sprees at the Masjid Al Noor mosque on Deans Avenue and Linwood Masjid, six kilometres away, during Friday prayers.

Among those killed is 14-year-old Sayyad Milne whose father told NZME his boy was a “brave little soldier” who had many health issues since birth.

I haven’t heard officially yet that he’s actually passed, but I know he has because he was seen,” John Milne said on Saturday.

Mucad  Ibrahim, three, was lost in the melee when the firing started at the Al Noor mosque as his older brother, Abdi, fled for his life and his father pretended to be dead after being shot.

The New Zealand Herald reported the family searched in vain for the toddler at Christchurch hospital and later posted a photograph of Mucad, smiling with Abdi with the caption: “Verily we belong to God and to  Him  we shall return. Will miss you dearly brother”.

Friends and family of the victims wait near the hospital for news on March 17, 2019 in Christchurch. Source: AAP

Husne Ara Parvin, 42, died being struck by bullets while trying to shield her wheelchair-bound husband, Farid Uddin Ahmed, her nephew, Mahfuz Chowdhury, told The Daily Star, a Bangladesh newspaper.

Mr Chowdhury said Mr Uddin had been ill for years and Ms Parvin took him to the mosque every other Friday.

The nephew said relatives in New Zealand told him when the shootings began, Ms Parvin rushed to her husband’s mosque to protect him. He survived.

The Bangladeshi couple had moved to New Zealand sometime after 1994, Mr Chowdhury said.

Other victims were Haji-Daoud Nabi, Haroon Mahmood, Farhaj Ahsan, Lilik Abdul Hamid and Naeem Rashid.

Of the 50 wounded, 36 remain in hospital with two in critical conditions.

“As of last night, we were able to take all of the victims from both of those scenes and in doing so, we have located a further victim,” NZ Police Commissioner Mike Bush told reporters on Sunday.

“It’s difficult to be conclusive, but my understanding is that even those that were killed outside that mosque were visiting the mosque.”

A boy holds flowers with his parents on their way towards the the Linwood mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, Saturday, March 16, 2019. Source: AAP

Muslim community members have raised concerns that the time taken to remove the bodies from the mosques would comprise the burial process.

Mr Bush said police, pathologists and coroners were working to ensure families could claim their loved ones as soon as possible.

“We have to be absolutely clear on cause of death and confirm their identity before that can happen,” he said.

“But we are so aware of the cultural and religious needs. So we are doing that as quickly and sensitively as possible.”

Mr Bush said police would not release a list of the victims until they had been formally identified.

Christchurch Hospital on Saturday said most of the victims were men aged between 30 and 60, but children and women were also involved.

The attack is the worst shooting in the country’s history and has seen its threat level raised to high for the first time.

Police say they will continue guarding mosques around the country until further notice.

Helicopters have been hovering overhead in Christchurch since, while heavily-armed officers patrol streets.

A mourner leaves a memento at a makeshift memorial near the Linwood mosque in Christchurch. Source: AAP

‘This is not New Zealand’

Former NSW personal trainer Tarrant did not apply for bail when he appeared in court on Saturday and was remanded in custody without plea until April 5.

“There is one charge of murder brought at the moment, it is reasonable to assume that there will be others,” the presiding judge noted.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinta Ardern, who is expected to address the media again on Sunday in Wellington, held a series of meetings in Christchurch on Saturday to assure the Muslim community their safety was top priority.

“This is not New Zealand,” she told a group at the city’s refugee centre.

“This act of terror was brought to our shores and rained down upon us.”

Questions have been raised about why Tarrant had appeared on a watch list of New Zealand or Australian security agencies.

Ardern, meanwhile, also vowed New Zealand would be changing its gun laws, after it was discovered Tarrant was licensed and had five guns, some modified.

A series of vigils have now been scheduled around the country, while flowers were being left at cordons near the attack sites in Christchurch.

“If this evil thinks we will stop going to our mosque here or stop doing our worship to our god, Allah, we cannot ever stop,” Linwood mosque Imam Ibrahim Abdelhalim said.