A father and son who fled the civil war in Syria for “the safest country in the world” were buried before hundreds of mourners on Wednesday.
It was the first funerals for victims of the shootings at two mosques in New Zealand that horrified a nation known for being welcoming and diverse.
The funerals of Khalid Mustafa, 44, and Hamza Mustafa, 15, came five days after a white supremacist methodically gunned down 50 worshippers in Christchurch — a massacre that he broadcast live on Facebook.
Those present included Hamza’s younger brother, 13-year-old Zaed, who was wounded in an arm and a leg during the attack.
The boy tried to stand during the ceremony but had to sit back in his wheelchair, one mourner said.
“We tried to not shake his hand, and not touch his hand or his foot, but he refused, he wanted to shake everybody’s hand, he wanted to show everyone that he appreciated them. And that’s amazing,” Jamil El-Biza, who travelled from Australia to attend the funeral, said.
Mr El-Biza also heard the young boy say, “I don’t want to be here alone”, right before prayers began, Fairfax Media reported.
- Teen accused of sharing shooting live stream faces 14 years’ jail
- Fraser Anning says ‘Eggboy’ should have been slapped by mum years ago
- Pauline Hanson rejects ‘white supremacist’ jibe in Anning controversy
- Police raid homes on NSW north coast in relation to Christchurch attacks
- Women heard loved ones being killed during Mosque shooting
- Australian authorities increase security in mosques following NZ terrorist attack
- ‘Blood everywhere’: Horrified witnesses describe carnage at Christchurch mosques
The Mustafas had moved to New Zealand last year after spending six years as refugees in Jordan.
Mr Mustafa’s wife Salwa told Radio New Zealand when the family asked about New Zealand they were told “it’s the safest country in the world, the most wonderful country you can go… you will start a very wonderful life there”.
“But it wasn’t,” she added.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the family should have been safe.
“I cannot tell you how gutting it is to know that a family came here for safety and for refuge,” she said.
Families wait anxiously to bury loved ones
Families of those killed had been anxiously awaiting word on when they could bury their loved ones.
New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush said officers had now formally identified and released the remains of 21 of those killed.
Islamic tradition calls for bodies to be cleansed and buried as soon as possible.
The burials began soon after Ms Ardern renewed her call for people to speak of the victims rather than the man who killed them.
Ms Ardern’s plea against giving the accused gunman notoriety followed his move to represent himself in court, raising concerns he would attempt to use the trial as a platform for airing his racist views.
During a visit on Wednesday to the high school Hamza and another victim attended, Ms Ardern revisited that thought and asked students not to say the attacker’s name or dwell on him.
“Look after one another, but also let New Zealand be a place where there is no tolerance for racism,” she told students at Cashmere High School. “
“That’s something we can all do.”
Another Cashmere student, 14-year-old Sayyad Milne, also died in the attack.
Girl, 4, remains critical
About 30 people wounded in the attacks remained hospitalised as of Tuesday evening.
About 10 of them were in critical condition, including a four-year-old girl.
Brenton Harrison Tarrant, a 28-year-old Australian man, was charged with murder and was next scheduled to appear in court on April 5.
Police have said they were certain Tarrant was the only gunman but were still investigating whether he had support from others.
Ms Ardern previously has said reforms of New Zealand’s gun laws would be announced next week and she said an inquiry would be convened to look into the intelligence and security services’ failures to detect the risk from the attacker or his plans.
New Zealand’s international spy agency, the Government Communications Security Bureau, confirmed it had not received any relevant information or intelligence before the shootings.
NZ mosques in lockdown
Sheik Taj El-Din Hilaly, from Sydney, travelled to Christchurch to attend or lead some of the funerals.
Through a translator, he said he felt compelled to support the grieving.
A nationwide lockdown on mosques was imposed until Monday, which Sheik Hilaly said had upset Muslims whom he had visited in Auckland.
Police continue to guard mosques across the country.
Abizar Valibhai, from Christchurch, said Wednesday’s burials marked an important moment.
“It’s not only for the Muslim community, but for the whole of New Zealand, and the world as well,” he said.
“If we don’t show our support at this time, when are we going to show it?”
Mr Valibhai said there would be many waves of emotions to come for the families of the victims.
“They are fathers, they are mothers, they are brothers, they are sisters, they are wives,” he said.
“There are a lot of things that will be shattered.”
Residents of this close-knit city have created makeshift memorials near the two targeted mosques and at the botanical gardens, where a mountain of flowers has grown by the day.
Janna Ezat, whose son Hussein Al-Umari was killed in the Al Noor mosque, visited the memorial at the gardens and became overwhelmed by the outpouring of love.
She knelt amid the flowers and wept, grabbing at daisies and lilies.
Ms Ezat is comforted by reports that Hussein confronted the killer, charging at him after surviving the first spray of bullets.
“I’m very happy. I’m wearing white. We normally wear black,” she said.
“But he is a hero and I am proud of him.”
Do you know more or have a story tip? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.