Muslim community in Windsor-Essex mourns after New Zealand massacre
Ricardo Veneza, Stefanie Masotti, CTV Windsor
Published Friday, March 15, 2019 5:42PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, March 15, 2019 6:32PM EDT
The Friday prayer service at the Windsor Mosque was somber and contemplative following the shocking murder of at least 49 people during midday prayers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.
“Incredible sadness and lack of understanding that someone can hate so deeply,” said Remy Boubol, the former executive director of the Rose City Islamic Centre. “I don’t want that man’s name uttered in my house or in my community.”
Most, if not all, of the 49 killed were gunned down by an immigrant-hating white supremacist who apparently used a helmet-mounted camera to broadcast live video of the slaughter on Facebook.
Religious leaders from the Christian, Jewish and Mennonite faiths in Windsor-Essex banded together to show their support for those in the Muslim community, and condemn the terror attacks.
"We are angry. We are hurt and we want to sit with you in solidarity to let you know that we love you and we care about you," said Pastor Riley McLaren of Windsor Mennonite Fellowship.
“We have to come out and name exactly what happened,” said Reverend Frank Staples of Riverside United Church. “This was a terrorist attack perpetrated by a white supremacist upon the Islamic faith.”
"Each of the wounded and each of the dead we weep for their unimaginable losses," said Rabbi Lynn Goldstein.
One man was arrested and charged with murder, and two other armed suspects were taken into custody while police tried to determine what role, if any, they played in the cold-blooded attack that stunned New Zealand, a country so peaceful that police officers rarely carry guns.
"His mind and heart are full of evil,” said Imam Yousef Wahb.
Following Friday’s tragedy, members of the Windsor Islamic Association have reached out to the Windsor Police Service in hopes of an increased presence during the ritual Friday prayers.
Many feel uneasy and unsafe in the aftermath of the attack.
"Nothing will stop or hinder us from coming to our place of worship, practicing our freedom of religion,” said Imam Wahb.
World leaders condemned the violence and offered condolences, with President Donald Trump tweeting, "We stand in solidarity with New Zealand." Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan and other Islamic leaders pointed to the bloodbath and other such attacks as evidence of rising hostility toward Muslims after 9-11.
Local politicians joined the condemnation.
"All of us are seeing this hate speech, these horrible graphics and memes that are being shown on social media and we all have a responsibility to call that out when we see it," said Tracey Ramsey, Essex MP and newly appointed NDP Justice Critic.
"I think I speak on behalf of all of us at the Ontario Legislature to let you know our hearts are with you today and they are heavy,” said Taras Natyshak, the New Democrat MPP for the Essex riding.
The gunman who carried out at least one of the mosque attacks posted a jumbled, 74-page manifesto on social media under the name Brenton Tarrant, identifying himself as a 28-year-old Australian and white supremacist who was out to avenge attacks in Europe perpetrated by Muslims.
He also livestreamed in graphic detail 17 minutes of his rampage at Al Noor Mosque, where, armed with at least two assault rifles and a shotgun, he sprayed worshippers with bullets over and over, killing at least 41 people. Several more people were killed in an attack on a second mosque in the city a short time later.
At least 48 people were wounded, some critically. Police also defused explosive devices in a car.
Police did not say whether the same person was responsible for both shootings. They gave no details about those taken into custody except to say that none had been on any watch list.
In the aftermath, the country's threat level was raised from low to high, police warned Muslims against going to a mosque anywhere in New Zealand, and the national airline cancelled several flights in and out of Christchurch, a city of nearly 400,000 people.
New Zealand, with 5 million people, has relatively loose gun laws and an estimated 1.5 million firearms, or roughly one for every three residents. But it has one of the lowest gun homicide rates in the world. In 2015, it had just eight gun homicides, or what passes for a bad weekend in places like Chicago.
Before Friday's attack, New Zealand's deadliest shooting in modern history took place in 1990 in the small town of Aramoana, where a gunman killed 13 people following a dispute with a neighbour.
On Saturday, the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, said the "primary perpetrator" in the shootings was a licensed gun owner and legally acquired the five guns used. Arden said country's gun laws will change as a result of the carnage, but she did not specify how.
New Zealand is also generally considered to be welcoming to migrants and refugees.
The prime minister said the attack reflected "extremist views that have absolutely no place in New Zealand."
Immigrants "have chosen to make New Zealand their home, and it is their home," she said. "They are us."
At the White House, Trump called the bloodshed "a terrible thing" but rejected any suggestion the white nationalist movement is a rising threat around the world, saying it is "a small group of people that have very, very serious problems."
The gunman, in his rambling manifesto, deemed Trump "a symbol of renewed white identity."
At the Al Noor mosque, witness Len Peneha said he saw a man dressed in black and wearing a helmet with some kind of device on top enter the house of worship and then heard dozens of shots, followed by people running out in terror.
Peneha, who lives next door, said the gunman ran out of the mosque, dropped what appeared to be a semi-automatic weapon in his driveway and fled. Peneha then went into the mosque to help the victims.
"I saw dead people everywhere. There were three in the hallway, at the door leading into the mosque, and people inside the mosque," he said. "I don't understand how anyone could do this to these people, to anyone. It's ridiculous."
Facebook, Twitter and Google companies scrambled to take down the gunman's video, which was widely available on social media for hours after the horrific attack.
In the video, the killer spends more than two minutes inside the mosque spraying terrified worshippers with gunfire. He then walks outside, where he shoots at people on the sidewalk. Children's screams can be heard in the distance as he returns to his car to get another rifle. He walks back into the mosque, where there are at least two dozen people lying on the ground.
After going back outside and shooting a woman there, he gets back in his car, where the song "Fire" by the English rock band The Crazy World of Arthur Brown can be heard blasting. The singer bellows, "I am the god of hellfire!" and the gunman drives off before police even arrive.
The second attack took place at the Linwood mosque about 5 kilometres (3 miles) away. Mark Nichols told the New Zealand Herald that he heard about five gunshots and that a worshipper returned fire with a rifle or shotgun.
The footage showed the killer was carrying a shotgun and two fully automatic military assault rifles, with an extra magazine taped to one of the weapons so that he could reload quickly. He also had more assault weapons in the trunk of his car, along with what appeared to be explosives.
The gunman's manifesto was a welter of often politically contradictory views, touching on many of the most combustible issues of the day, among them the Second Amendment right to own guns, Muslim immigration, terrorist attacks and the wealthiest 1 per cent.
He portrayed himself as a racist and a fascist and raged against non-Westerners, but said China is the nation that most aligns with his political and social values.
The gunman said he was not a member of any organization, acted alone and chose New Zealand to show that even the most remote parts of the world are not free of "mass immigration."
Last year, New Zealand's prime minister announced that the country would boost its annual refugee quota from 1,000 to 1,500 in 2020. Ardern, whose party campaigned on a promise to take in more refugees, called it "the right thing to do."
Christchurch, sometimes called the Garden City, has been rebuilding since an earthquake in 2011 killed 185 people and destroyed many downtown buildings.
— with files from Nick Perry and Mark Baker; Associated Press writers Juliet Williams in Christchurch; Kristen Gelineau in Sydney; Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia; and Chris Blake in Bangkok contributed to this report.