GRAPHIC CONTENT WARNING: THIS STORY CONTAINS DETAILS WHICH READERS MIGHT FIND UPSETTING
The sentencing of the Christchurch mosque gunman began yesterdaywith stories of horror, heartbreak, and heroism. Herald senior journalists Kurt Bayer and Anna Leask report.
One by one they stood in court to face the terrorist mass murderer.
Brave, stoic and flanked by loved ones who clasped their shoulders, they looked him in the eyes. Hands trembled. Tears fought back.
"We need to learn to live with the indescribable loss and pain," said Farah Kamal, wife of Ata Mohammad Ata Elayyan, futsal star and rising young IT leader slain at Al Noor Mosque alongside 43 fellow Muslims during Friday prayers on March 15 last year.
Survivors, family members, they spoke of graphic flashbacks. Blood. Refugee stories. Islamophobia. Sleepless nights. Mental scars. Financial woes.
Forgiveness: "I decided to forgive you Mr Tarrant, because I don't have hate. I don't have revenge … The damage was done and Hussein will never be here so I have only one choice, is to forgive you," said Janna Ezat, mother of Hussein Al-Umari, 35, gunned down at Al Noor.
It was the one time that convicted killer Brenton Harrison Tarrant, escorted into the dock manacled at hands and feet, that he appeared to acknowledge his victims. He gave a slight nod and wiped an eye.
No forgiveness: "I can't forgive you, you gave yourself to take the souls of 51 innocent people ... You orphaned children," Elayyan's mother said.
They are at different stages of grief. But they would not be broken.
They stood, one after the other, telling the terrorist in strong, clear voices: He had lost.
"My heart is broken, but I am not broken," survivor Khaled Alnobani said.
"We have become more united – and thank you for that."
The unprecedented sentencing of New Zealand's worst-ever mass murderer began at the High Court in Christchurch at 10.02am.
Tarrant, 29, initially pleaded not guilty to his offending but later changed his tune and admitted 51 charges of murder, 40 counts of attempted murder and one of engaging in a terrorist act laid under the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002.
The hearing is scheduled to last four days. At the end, the Australian man will be jailed for life.
Yesterday the gunman's detailed, planned terror attack was revealed in detail for the first time.
Before the harrowing document was read aloud, Justice Cameron Mander warned its content would be "distressing". But he stressed it was necessary to be stated in open court.
The collection of high-powered weaponry, amassing more than 7000 rounds of ammunition, the drone reconnaissance mission over Al Noor three months earlier, the training at "a number of different" gun clubs, addressing his livestream "audience", the plan to attack a third mosque in Ashburton, all documented in the official 26-page Crown summary of facts.
And then there were the massacres themselves. The cold-blooded, methodical nature of the attacks. Firing into piles of bodies.
Little 3-year-old Mucaad Ibrahim visited the mosque with his father as the bullets rained around them.
They huddled in a mass of people in north-eastern corner of the main prayer room, trying in vain to protect each other. Some were already dead – others badly wounded or crying out for help or moving slightly.
Tarrant aimed the AR-15 military style semi-automatic rifle slowly and deliberately across the room, systematically firing.
Mucaad was clinging to his father's leg when Tarrant shot him dead with two "precisely aimed" shots.
Hero martyr Naeem Rashid, 50, running at the gunman, knocking him down to one knee, and dislodging ammunition magazines from his tactical vest, allowing time for some worshippers to escape before he was executed at close range.
A torrent of horror. Ansi Karippakulam Alibava running for her life, scrambling through a gate and running down the road when Tarrant spotted her. He raised his AR-15 and fired two shots.
She fell to the ground in front of his parked car. Dying, arms raised in the air, crying for help, Tarrant strode up to Alibava and shot her twice - at point blank from a distance of less than 1m.
Her life was over. But there was one more sickening act to come. As he went to leave, heading for his second of three targets – the Linwood Mosque some 7km across town – he drove directly over Alibava's body.
And then at Linwood, gunning three down dead in the driveway, firing at Mohammed Khan's head silhouetted in the window, and shooting him dead.
Chased off by Abdul Aziz Wahabazadah who speared a discarded gun through his Subaru's window as he sped off.
After his arrest, rammed off the road by two country cops, stopping him from attaining his third target in Ashburton, he admitted going to both mosques intending to kill as many people as he could.
He admitted having incendiary devices designed to burn the mosques down and regretted not doing so. He wished he'd killed more people than he had.
One person who nearly didn't make it was Temel Atacocugu.
Supported in court by his two teenage sons, Atacocugu who was shot nine times, revealed it was not the first time he'd come eye-to-eye with Tarrant.
"The gunman and I looked into each other's eyes I saw the moment when I was the target of his gun," he said.
"As I lay under bodies in the mosque I thought I was going to die. I could feel the blood and brains of the person upon me running down my face and neck.
"I couldn't move or make a sound as the gunman would have executed me as he did the others.
"I know if I had moved wouldn't be here today."
The hearing will resume at 10am today.
The events of Christchurch are distressing. If you, or someone you, know needs mental wellbeing support or advice then call or text 1737 anytime. There is some great advice on coping after a traumatic event here: https://www.health.govt.nz/node/9714. It includes key information for parents of children.