NZ returns 1st shooting dead

Six bodies released to families so far, but only 12 of the 50 victims had been identified

By AFP

CHRISTCHURCH • The bodies of six of the Christchurch massacre victims have been released to their families, New Zealand police said yesterday, but they warned only a fraction of the 50 people killed had been fully identified, with the delay angering anguished relatives.

Muslims whose loved ones were gunned down by an Australian white supremacist at two mosques last Friday have had their grief compounded by the failure of the authorities to return bodies to families in time for a speedy burial, as required under Islamic custom.

Police in Christchurch said only 12 of the 50 victims had been identified, and appeared to warn next of kin to brace for further delays.

“We are doing all we can to undertake this work as quickly as possible and return the victims to their loved ones,” a police statement said. “While ident if icat ion may seem straightforward, the reality is much more complex, particularly in a situation like this.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern vowed yesterday that the gunman would face the “full force of the law” as she opened a sombre session of Parliament with an evocative “Assalamualaikum” message of peace to Muslims. But the black-clad Ardern pledged to grieving Kiwis that she would deprive the 28-year-old gunman of the publicity he craved by never uttering his name.

“That is why you will never hear me mention his name. He is a terrorist. He is a criminal. He is an extremist. But he will, when I speak, be nameless,” she told assembled lawmakers.

“I implore you: Speak the names of those who were lost rather than the name of the man who took them.”

The 38-year-old leader closed by noting that this Friday marks a week since the attack, and urged New Zealanders to grieve along with them.

But the forensic delays are casting a cloud over New Zealand’s handling of the horrific ordeal. Dozens of relatives of the deceased have already begun arriving from around the world ahead of expected funerals, which have already been delayed far beyond the 24 hours after death usually observed under Islam.

Peter Elms of New Zealand’s Immigration Department said 65 visas had been granted for overseas family members so far.

Javed Dadabhai, who travelled from Auckland to help bury his cousin, said families and volunteers had been warned of a slow process.

“The majority of people still have not had the opportunity to see their family members,” he told AFP.

Following the mass shooting, Ardern has promised to reform New Zealand laws that allowed the gunman to legally purchase weapons used in the attack.

Ardern has said details of the proposed reform will be announced by next week, but she indicated they could include gun buybacks and a ban on some semi-automatic rifles. — AFP