"Why would someone do that?" asked Master 13 last weekend following the Christchurch massacre that left 50 people dead and dozens wounded.
I couldn't give him an answer. To say the attacks, allegedly carried out by a white supremacist from Australia, was evil, seemed too simple. What led a person to pump bullets from semi-automatic weapons into fellow humans is something we'll ponder forever.
The event was live streamed on Facebook, and the suspected killer reportedly posted a document outlining the same racist themes long circulated by white identity organisations.
US President Donald Trump after the attacks said white supremacism is, "a small group of people that have very, very serious problems." This runs counter to what American intelligence agencies have said, and counter to what former white supremacist Christian Picciolini told National Public Radio (US) last weekend. "It is certainly not a fringe movement. It is a large-scale terrorist movement." Not all white supremacists will use violence, but Picciolini said the internet and Trump encourage violence among a subset of people by echoing decades-old neo-Nazi rhetoric: "...build a wall, Muslim ban, you know, remove immigrants from the country - all the same things that I used to say."
The internet has spread the narrative of hate farther and wider than ever. Fear of invasion and conspiracy theories fueled massacres at a Pittsburgh synagogue last October and at a South Carolina church in 2015. Killers in those cases espoused the same apocalyptic beliefs as those of the alleged shooter in Christchurch.
White supremacists self-radicalise while searching for identity, community and purpose, according to experts. Most of today's radicals don't look like skinheads or act like freaks. They might wear suits and call themselves white nationalists, or simply say they're regular folk being oppressed, as societies worldwide work towards equality.
Building understanding among people of different ethnicities, religions and cultures happens when we get to know neighbours one-on-one. It's easy to portray "us versus them" when the only "them" you see is on-screen.
Former NZ Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy wrote the day after the Christchurch attack in The Spinoff Muslim Kiwis have faced hatred, abuse and extremists in our country for years.
Devoy said every Muslim woman she knew had faced racist abuse in New Zealand, in person, online or in the media. "The fact that so many of yesterday's victims survived Isis, long treks to safety, and subsistence living in refugee camps only to die at the hands of a terrorist here in Aotearoa should shame us all. So do not tell me that March 15 was a surprise. Because hatred lives in New Zealand."
By contrast, I'm heartened to hear stories from friends and acquaintances who've bridged the religious divide: a woman who planned a pregnant Muslim's baby shower shortly after befriending her; a retail employee who served as bridesmaid at her friend's arranged marriage; a couple from the US who adopted a child from Bangladesh and encouraged her to follow her Muslim beliefs. A half-dozen other Kiwis have shared stories about meeting Muslims while working, living next door or travelling. Other people I queried said they either didn't know any Muslims or weren't aware of any, as not everyone is open about his/her religion.
It's hard to stigmatise an entire faith when you stand shoulder-to-shoulder with people who, though they read from a different holy book, eat different foods or dress in a different way, love their children as much as you love yours.
Back to my son's question: I don't know why someone takes the lives of 50 innocent worshippers.
I do know love, tolerance and compassion start with each of us. Dame Susan said we must never let racism and hatred go unchallenged. Give nothing to racism.
The next time someone utters the phrase, "Bloody Māoris," question him. If a friend tells you the Quran espouses violence, or that local Muslims want to impose SHARIA LAW! (almost always in caps on social media), ask how much study he or she has done with Islamic leaders.
Don't assume any single practitioner of a particular faith represents all followers. The Anglican Christianity I was raised with in Ohio may be much different from the Christianity of a Southern Baptist in Oklahoma, or the Catholic Christian faith of a native New Zealander. So many variables. So many humans.
The outpouring of support following the Christchurch attacks reveals who we, as Kiwis, truly are: a multicultural melting pot of compassion.
But it's not enough to practice kindness and inclusion. We also need gun laws that ensure hunters can bag their catch without making it easy for murderers to shoot dozens of people at once using semi-automatic weapons.
We must work with allies such as the US to share information about domestic terrorist organisations; tighten watch lists and empower individuals and communities to measure and report hate crimes.
Thoughts and prayers are powerless platitudes. Hatred loses its footing when we stand for justice, advocate for equality and act in love.