CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand — There was no point in trying to make sense of the attacks on two mosques here. There was no sense. The only thing the survivors and their communities could do over the weekend was try to comfort one another.
In a community college hall and in the main hospital — both on the opposite side of Hagley Park, Christchurch’s equivalent of New York’s Central Park — from a mosque where more than 40 worshipers were gunned down in one of two attacks, people gathered to recount their horror and to find consolation.
In homes around Christchurch, which has fewer than 400,000 inhabitants and prides itself as New Zealand’s “Garden City,” relatives gathered in what felt like wakes — except they have not been able to bury their loved ones yet.
The bodies are slowly being returned to the families, with the first funerals expected Monday.
Here, some of the survivors of the attacks describe their ordeal.
Originally from Afghanistan, Wahab-Zader, 48, moved to New Zealand two years ago after 27 years in Australia. He was at the Linwood mosque, where eight people were killed. He is credited with saving many lives.
“We heard some gunfire. First we thought it was a firecracker or something. Then one brother was in the first row of the prayer, and he said some of our brothers are getting shot. Then I heard more gunfire. That time I said it’s not a firecracker or anything. I just ran outside and saw a man who had military clothes, and he had everything like a military person. I didn’t know if he was the military or if he was chasing someone. Then he started swearing at me . . . and I knew that he was not an army person or anything. The Eftpos [card payment] machine I had in my hands, and I just threw it at him.
“Because he parked his car in the driveway, he managed to get another gun, and he started shooting at me. . . . I managed to duck myself between cars. When I was running, I saw another dead body with a shotgun because he shot three persons first, and he dropped the gun. He went to get a second gun and come inside. I picked up the gun because I had to defend myself and the people inside. When I pulled the trigger, there were no bullets inside. I wanted him to focus more on me than going in the mosque. I was yelling at him, ‘I’m here, I’m here.’
“Suddenly I heard gunfire inside the mosque, and at that time I knew he was already inside the mosque. I came from the back of the mosque. I’m not sure if he saw me or not. He just dropped the gun, and he ran. I had the gun still in my hands, and I just chased him. He sat in the driver’s seat [of his car]. I had this shotgun in my hands and I threw the shotgun at his window, and I smashed the window.
“I could see he was frightened. He just gave me the finger and said, ‘I killed all of you,’ and he drove off.”
A 19-year-old student from Indonesia training in New Zealand to be a pilot, Avisena was at the Al Noor mosque.
“Every Friday, I go to the mosque. The first five to 10 minutes, the prayers were going on. Then I heard bang, bang, bang. I though it was an electricity overload. I still sat and did nothing. But the sound kept coming, and people started standing up and screaming. That was when I realized what was happening. I saw the man in the black tactical suit.
“I was close to the window, and it had been broken. People were trying to jump out. I got trapped under people as they were trying to get out. Maybe 20 people piled on top of me. There was so many people. I was there on the ground for maybe 10 minutes, then I heard someone yell out, ‘Brothers.’ The gunman had gone.
“I stood up and saw that everyone around me was dead. There was blood on the floor. Someone was screaming for help. He had been shot in the chest. It was a miracle that I was not shot. When I saw the video [that the gunman made during the attack], I could see myself in it.
“I managed to escape and get to my car in the parking lot. But I couldn’t drive away because there were bodies on the ground.
“I’m still afraid. I don’t want to go out to a restaurant or anywhere.”
Fadhli, 20, is also Indonesian and training to be a pilot.
“Friday is the day when I will never forget what happened. I was on my way to the mosque for Friday prayers, and I was entering the mosque, sitting there and listening to the imam preaching. There was a loud explosion noise and it became bigger. Everyone was running; windows were breaking. People were screaming and getting shot right next to me. There were bodies falling everywhere.
“My survival instinct kicked in. I ran into the car park and climbed over someone’s fence to escape. It was a 60-year-old retired doctor’s house. About 15 people were in the house, and a couple of them were injured. He was an eye doctor, but he was helping treat the people who came over the fence.
“My friend [Ozair Kadir] was killed. I just heard the news today. It was really shocking.”
Abdukadir, 25, was born in Somalia. His father, 70-year-old Abdukadir Elmi, was killed in the Al Noor mosque.
“On that Friday, I came from home with my wife and our 9-month-old baby. We usually arrive at about 1:15, but our baby slept late that day. When we arrived, I saw people running from the mosque. I thought there must have been a fire. Then I saw that the doors were open and there was no one inside. I thought it was really weird. Then the shooter came out. I pulled over and told my friend that he needed to get into the car. Now. Then he saw the gunman getting another gun from his car.
“Another Somali brother had parked behind us. He was leaning out his window telling someone to get into his car. The gunman shot at him and the bullet went through the back of his seat.
“I drove off, looking at my baby in the back, looking at the gunman.
“This is devastating. My father survived through civil war. I never thought this kind of stuff would happen to him in New Zealand.”