From the moment it started, every step was planned – an act of terror designed to be broadcast to the world. Brenton Tarrant had chosen Christchurch’s Al Noor mosque for no other reason that it looks like a place of Islamic worship. He knows it’s lunchtime prayers, and the mosque is full.
Inside the Mosque, Nour Travis is near the front, close to the imam. “Suddenly [there were] two bangs, like we first thought it was speakers,” he tells Sunday Night’s Denham Hitchcock. “I never thought it’s going to be shooting. Then it starts again, but this time it’s just shooting like fireworks.”
“I knew if I was standing, as soon as he appeared from the hall the first target is going to be me or whoever walking, the moving targets. It’s just panic. Some [people] couldn’t move. They just freeze. The fourth person on my right, he got shot in his head.”
Gulser Ali was also near the front when the gunfire started, and recalls the chaos. “Everybody yelling out. Gunshots. Everybody is fighting. People getting killed and people start yelling out from the inside the mosque. One lady was shot in the road. She was trying to escape.”
Desperate to escape the hail of bullets, some worshippers make it as far as the road out front, where Jill Keates is driving past.
“I saw young men running and I thought what I heard was firecrackers,” recalls Jill. “I thought, ‘No, that’s not firecrackers, that sounds like gunfire.’ The next thing one [person] dropped on that side of me. Another one fell right opposite my car.”
“It sounded like a war zone and I thought, ‘What do I do?’ The rapid fire of that gun he had, I’d never heard anything like it. I’ve got a Lexus and it’s quite low to the ground, and apparently a bullet must have come over my car and slammed into the black car behind me.”
“When I thought there was a lull in the gunfire, I opened up my door and I noticed that the guy had been shot in the back and the one on the other side, he’d rolled onto his back and he was in agony as well. The one on my side of the driver’s door, I could have reached out and touched.”
Jill has no medical training – she’s a retired bookkeeper and a mother of two – but she applies compression to his wound to keep him alive.
“He was trying to speak to me,” Jill says. “He had his phone in his hand and he was trying to give it to me. I realised what he was doing. He was trying to ring his wife and so I saw she was trying to ring him. I pushed the answer and I said to her, ‘My name’s Jill, your husband or partner’s been shot.’ I’ve said, ‘I’m with him. Don’t come down here because there’s still a gunman loose. You need to go to the hospital and wait there.’”
Back inside, the mosque worshippers are huddled into corners frozen in fear. Tarrant doesn’t care.
“I ran from the mosque and the people start falling down,” Gulser Ali remembers. “I jumped over them and then I see nowhere to go. I don’t know where I am going! I might end up with the gunman, so I thought, okay, just lie down. I hold my breath, make my body lose, and then for a while I lie dead like that and keep watching.”
In the chaos Nour keeps low, crawling on hands and knees until he finds what may be his only way out – a smashed window. He knew he had two options. “Either I get to the window and I’m safe, [or Tarrant] is going to come through, he’s going to shoot me dead.”
Nour makes it through the window to safety, but Tarrant has almost reached Gulser. He decided to run. “I [hear] gunshots in my ears. I can’t look back to see someone. If I look back I’ll be shot, that’s what I was thinking. I never look back.”
Back at Jill’s car, one man is dead, but her patient clings to life. “I held his hand and I told him that his wife was waiting for him and he wasn’t to give up, and she’d be at the hospital for him and he was to hang in there. That’s all you can do.”
“If he didn’t make it, I’d like to think he knew that he had somebody there with him, even if it wasn’t his wife. You know, towards the end that we made every attempt. I’d like that done for me.”
Brenton Tarrant’s day of terror would end in a coward’s surrender. He has left this peaceful nation confused, heartbroken and angry.
“There’s no comprehending it,” says Jill. “Some people will think he’s a hero, but to me if I’d had a gun yesterday, I would have shot him myself.”
“[I] never thought I’d see it in New Zealand. Terrible. But the human spirit comes to the fore. There was some wonderful people out there, and I just take my hat off to everyone.”
Reporter: Denham Hitchcock
Producers: Stephen Rice