The shock and outrage after dozens were shot to death Friday during midday prayers in a pair of mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, has had a ripple effect worldwide, including on Hawaii Island.
Denhym Brooke, a 22-year-old kinesiology major from Auckland who just finished his career as a basketball player at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, told the Tribune-Herald he’s still attempting to process the horrific event.
“I don’t know why something like this would happen there. It was kind of a shock to me when I heard it, especially because we do have strict gun laws,” Brooke said.
Fellow Aucklander Terina Kaire, who’s married to Hilo resident Justin Stoleson, said the mood of the nation of 5 million is “just a state of shock and heartbreak.”
“I have a couple of friends in Christchurch, and they’ve marked themselves as safe, fortunately,” Kaire said. “But there’s a couple of friends of friends and friends of family that have been impacted by the tragedy.”
“You read these stories of these things that happen everywhere else in the world, but you don’t expect it to happen in New Zealand,” she added, noting the last gun-related massacre in which more than a dozen were killed happened in 1990 in the small town of Aramoana, which like Christchurch is on the Pacific nation’s South Island. That tragedy took 14 lives, including that of the shooter, David Gray.
Big Islanders Mick and Ann Kalber were in New Plymouth on the North Island on Friday, attending a climate change protest rally where Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern spoke. They said Ardern left shortly before the mosque massacre — by far the worst mass shooting in the country’s history.
“Everyone here is stunned and horrified,” Mick Kalber said in a direct message via Facebook. “The (prime minister) almost immediately said gun control needed to be undertaken.”
“In general, New Zealand and its people are shocked that it could happen here,” Ann Kalber added in a Facebook message. “Strong community roots and they are already working on the solution to the problem and those that were affected.”
Ardern pronounced it “one of New Zealand’s darkest days.”
“It is clear that this can now only be described as a terrorist attack,” Ardern said, noting that many of the victims could be migrants or refugees.
An Australian, Brenton Harrison Tarrant appeared in court Saturday morning amid strict security and showed no emotion when the judge read him one murder charge. The judge said “it was reasonable to assume” more charges would follow. Two others had been arrested.
Tarrant, who in a rambling manifesto identified himself as an immigrant-hating white supremacist, mentioned U.S. President Donald Trump as “a symbol of renewed white identity.”
“Sad to hear that our president was referenced by the man that (wielded) the gun. White supremacy is fueled by his words,” Ann Kalber said.
Trump disavowed Tarrant’s views, tweeting, “We stand in solidarity with New Zealand.”
Ardern said immigrants “have chosen to make New Zealand their home, and it is their home. They are us.”
Hawaii has a small Muslim community, including Hilo resident Laycie Tobosa, who noted the alleged shooters “went into a place of prayer when they knew that it was the one day of the week that Muslims congregate.”
“I read an article about one of the gunmen saying he was upset about shootings in Europe, and he wanted to seek revenge,” Tobosa said. “The Muslims that went into the mosque on Friday to pray are not the ones to be targeted for the acts that are carried about by extremists around the world. And that’s really the sad part. … The people that lost their lives on Friday are peaceful people. … And to have such violence in a sacred place is devastating.
“The true Muslim community is outraged by the acts carried out by extremists in Allah’s name … because that is not the true Muslim. … The struggle that we face is dispelling the stereotype of Muslims, because the typical Muslim is not a terrorist.”
As a local Muslim, Tobosa feels “a big responsibility to bridge the gap between our local community and the understanding of Islam and Muslims.”
“I think it’s important that people realize that it’s not some foreign concept. We have Muslims here. We have Hawaiian Muslims. And this could’ve been any one of us,” she said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.