Just days after a dodgy roofer scammed him of $8000, Nathan Smith survived the Christchurch mosque shootings. His life was quickly put into perspective. Now, for the first time, Smith tells his remarkable full story to Herald senior journalist Kurt Bayer.
Nathan Smith felt a sucker. Angry, conned of eight grand.
And he'd looked him in the eye too, and asked Macaulay "Mac" Marchant if he was straight. He took his word.
He was kicking himself – he was in the building game, should've known better. Seen it coming. He'd already taken out a loan to get the leaky roof fixed and now he'd need to take another loan just to get it done.
Smith turned to Allah.
In Islam, Friday is the most important day of the week. Smith took most Fridays off work and on Friday, March 15 last year, the 45-year old scaffolder got to Masjid Al Noor early. He wanted to catch up with some friends.
Smith had found Islam right here, inside the golden domed mosque on Christchurch's Deans Ave, across from Hagley Park, just a few years ago.
Originally from the port resort town of Poole, in the county of Dorset, on England's south coast, Smith came to New Zealand in 2006 for a holiday, visiting his father who lived Down Under.
But he liked it and planned to stay a few years. He got settled, found a job and, later, religion.
He had been driving past the mosque building on Deans Ave one day when he saw it was having an open day. He nearly kept going but a voice inside him drew him inside.
Smith was welcomed and given some reading material, which he found made sense to him.
"And that was the beginning," Smith says.
"It's probably one of the best things I've ever done. They were some of the nicest people you could ever meet."
When he bought his Belfast house in late 2018, he knew the roof needed upgrading, and had taken a loan for the work.
On February 9 last year, he found a roofer's advertisement in the Yellow Pages and phoned them up.
They said they were too busy to take on any more work. Smith shrugged and hung up.
But 20 minutes later, they phoned him back. They could come and take a look straight away.
"This guy turned up and started giving me the talk," Smith said.
"I said, 'You're not one of those dodgy roofers from the North Island are you?' And he says, 'Na, na.'"
It turned out to be Macaulay Marchant. He said he'd needed scaffolding erected, which Smith organised, and hours later Marchant was back on the blower: "Any chance you can pay me now?" He needed materials as he wanted to start on Monday.
The next morning, Smith went to the bank to transfer some cash. But the teller questioned why the account details Marchant had given for his Essential Roofing company didn't match up. The teller even phoned Marchant, who explained that the account belonged to his partner. Smith paid the money, $8000.
But Marchant didn't start work on Monday. He told Smith he would be starting on Thursday. However, he was a no show. Nor on Friday. Smith phoned and was told next week, next week.
Next week: no show.
The following Monday, his boss handed him a newspaper and said: "Is this your roofing guy?" There was Marchant, gone bankrupt.
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But Marchant still claimed he'd do the work. "He just yarned and yarned," Smith said.
"I'm not an idiot, and I should know better because I'm in the building game, but he seemed genuine."
Smith felt angry and ashamed at being taken in.
A few weeks later, he parked up at Al Noor Mosque early, parking in the rear carpark, hoping to catch up with some friends before Salat al-Jumu'ah, Friday prayer, began.
He spoke to an Egyptian mate on the way in before sitting in the main prayer room on the right-hand side where many of his Arab friends sat. He sat on a bench but gave up his seat for an older brother, sitting on the floor, leaning against the wall beside a window.
Just minutes after Imam Gamal Fouda began speaking, he was interrupted by loud sounds. "At the time, I didn't know, thought maybe firecrackers or something electrical? The last thing I thought was that it would be gunfire."
He soon began seeing the crowd of worshippers start falling over.
"It was like the parting of the Red Sea – some were saying 'Allahu Akbar', half of them ran for the exits while the other half just lay there."
Smith sat there stunned. The window just centimetres from his head exploded in bullets, triggering him to flee.
He ran into the sunroom, or classroom 2, off the main prayer hall, and down the wheelchair ramp to his car.
"You could hear screaming, windows going out."
A Somalian man stood beside him was shot and killed.
People were fleeing the mosque building and climbing over the back and side walls of the carpark.
Smith looked to his left and saw Farid Ahmed behind his car in his wheelchair.
There were some other, older Arabs who couldn't make it over the walls, including a friend, Hussein Moustafa, 70, who'd helped him organise a recent trip to Egypt – and even was there when he met his wife.
Suddenly, the shooting stopped. Smith heard someone yelling, "Help me! Help me!"
He went back into the sunroom and grabbed a wounded Afghani man, shot several times in the back, and dragged him down the wheelchair ramp.
Moustafa ran around to the front door of the mosque where he was shot by the returning gunman as he helped an injured person.
Smith got the Afghani to a small building at the rear of the mosque property and held his hand. The other, older Arab men were with him. He could still hear gunshots.
Then, something happened to Smith.
"I lost my bottle," he admits. "I went over the wall too."
As he scaled the concrete wall which led into a driveway to a block of townhouses, he saw the gunman getting back into his Subaru.
Smith pressed himself against the concrete wall and saw the killer drive away.
After he left, he rushed down the driveway. He saw a semi-automatic weapon lying on the ground and told a Māori guy – who would turn out to be Len Peneha who lived next door and had been helping fleeing Muslims over the wall – not to touch it.
A woman had been shot at the end of the driveway. Smith sat with her, taking off his jersey and covering her. He stroked her and repeated the Islamic prayer for the dead and dying, "Lailaha illal-lah", over and over.
An Indian man ran past and back again. He took the dead woman's hand and tried dragging her away. Smith and a Palestinian guy stopped him and asked what he was doing. He replied, "It's my wife!"
Smith then recalls seeing the hysterical man across Deans Ave, being held back by police. He was wailing, with his arms out, reaching for his dead wife. "I felt so bad," Smith says. "It should've been him with her, not me."
By then more police and St John were arriving.
A father was cradling a small child. Smith could tell the child was dead and felt he had to tell the father.
"I know," he replied. "He's gone to a better place."
Smith kissed the father on the forehead and kissed the boy.
"Everyone was in shock. People were staring into space, looking at each other with blank faces. But at that precise time, I wasn't. That only came later."
He was taken to nearby Christchurch Hospital under police escort.
There, he was asked to field calls from families looking for loved ones.
His phone rang and the voice said: "I'm looking for my wife."
Smith instantly recognised the voice. Farid Ahmed?
"Yes, have you seen Husna?"
Smith had seen her.
"But I lied," he admits. "I said, no. What could I say?"
He took a few more calls but then turned his phone off. He couldn't do any more.
Smith finally got home that night and the shock set in.
"So that puts into perspective losing $8000."
After the mosque attacks, Smith wanted to return to England "to sort my head out".
But he couldn't afford to go. He'd taken out a loan to pay for the roof job that Marchant ripped him off on, and then had taken a second loan to actually get the work done.
He was disappointed at Marchant's final sentence of home detention.
Marchant, 25, had scammed more than $100,000 from 11 victims in Auckland, Christchurch, rural Canterbury, Mosgiel, Marlborough Sounds and the Wairarapa between December 2018 and February last year.
He used the cash to bankroll his gambling high life.
At Christchurch District Court last month, he was sentenced to 11 months' home detention at a Bucklands Beach property, with an order to pay back the money, with a $10,000 lump sum straight away, and then by instalments of $350 per week.
Smith hasn't seen a cent yet – and still has to pay interest on his roof loans.
"And yet, how much interest does he have to pay on his reparations? None. It was basically an interest-free loan he got," he says.
At least he's still got his beautiful family. And a roof over their heads.