Members of the Rotorua Muslim community and Rotorua residents with Christchurch links say they are shocked and saddened by the shootings at Christchurch mosques yesterday.

Yesterday gunmen opened fire at Al Noor Mosque in the central city and Linwood Masjid Mosque causing nearby schools and businesses to be locked down and the area cordoned off.

The total number of fatalities has been reported as 49, with 48 people being treated at Christchurch Hospital.

Head of the Rotorua Muslim Association Ayhan Semiz said it was sad to see religion attacked in such a way and there was a global phobia of the Islamic faith.

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However, he would not be reviewing the association's safety, saying this incident was a one-off.

Flags at half mast outside the Rotorua Lakes Council. Photo / Ben Fraser
Flags at half mast outside the Rotorua Lakes Council. Photo / Ben Fraser

"You can't rationalise with someone in that state of mind."

He said he was not scared following the attacks as he believed New Zealand was a peaceful and tolerant country.

Rotorua Muslim woman Emire Khan-Malik said she was saddened by the news.

"I know a lot of Muslim brothers and sisters and I'm very concerned for their safety."

Khan-Malik said the incident would make the Rotorua Muslim community concerned for its safety.

"All of the Muslim community in New Zealand will be.

"I am concerned about our Muslim brothers and sisters. They are going to be fearing for their own safety. Now this has happened who knows where it may happen again."

She said Muslims around the country would be reciting a special prayer for those who had lost their lives and praying this sort of thing would not happen again.

Khan-Malik believed the president of the Islamic Women's Council of New Zealand was in Christchurch.

She estimated there were 60 Muslim families in Rotorua. Rotorua Multicultural Council president Margriet Theron spoke to the Rotorua Daily Post as the incident unfolded yesterday.


Speaking through tears, she could not believe what had happened.

She said people migrated to New Zealand with safety at the top of their minds and would now be completely distressed.

"People come here for peace and safety. Now people will worry about going into a mosque.

"One incident will change the way we live forever."

Lily Joy Al Omari moved to Rotorua with her husband and two children in 2016 from Saudi Arabia for the safety New Zealand offered.

She said this was a tragedy for Christchurch who had first had the earthquakes, and then this "massacre". Her husband, Omar, saw the video and was deeply disturbed, saying it was a hate crime and in cold blood.

Flowers outside the Rotorua Islamic Centre on Saturday morning. Photo/ Ben Fraser
Flowers outside the Rotorua Islamic Centre on Saturday morning. Photo/ Ben Fraser

"New Zealand is a safe place for us. That's why I'm shocked," he said.

"We need to remember this to make sure this doesn't happen again . . . to anyone."

He did not regret moving to New Zealand and they would hope and pray this would not happen again. Rotorua architect Aladina Harunani, who is also a member of the local Muslim community, said he was full of emotion.

"This is totally unacceptable. How will those families take it when their loved ones don't come back from the mosque?

"It is really sad that our country has come to this. We as Kiwis have always been much more socially inclusive than other countries where this kind of thing has happened."

Head of the Rotorua Muslim Association Ayhan Semiz.
Head of the Rotorua Muslim Association Ayhan Semiz.

Yesterday Rotorua police said they could not comment on whether there would be an increased police presence at Rotorua's Islamic Centre in the wake of the shooting but the New Zealand police were asking all mosques nationally to shut their doors.

They were advising people to refrain from visiting these premises until further notice.

Bay of Plenty Sikh Society secretary Lehmber Singh said what had happened was "unbelievable".

"It's a very dark day for New Zealand and every New Zealander.

"Before this incident lots of people from overseas used to say to me 'You're so lucky' not to have the terrible mass shootings we keep hearing about in the US and other parts of the world.

"Clearly that won't be happening any more."

Singh urged everyone to come together to support the victims, their families and the community of Christchurch.

Rotorua real estate agent Don Gunn grew up in Christchurch and his brother and sister still lived there.

He said the news of the shootings was "totally shocking".

"It's totally unbelievable. When I think of Christchurch, when I was growing up it was always such a safe place."

He said the descriptions from the city were "just horrific".

Taupō Business Chamber president Catie Noble was in Christchurch just a few kilometres from one of the shootings and was in lockdown in her motel during its aftermath.

"Police, ambulance and armed offenders cars zooming past in both directions," she posted.

"Our hearts go out to our brothers and sisters killed and hurt in this gutless attack just down the road from my motel. Women, children and men all hurt whilst praying. They will be New Zealanders and migrants just like me and my family, just a different religion," she said.

"Diversity and inclusion must become a priority for us all."

Finn McCullough lived in Christchurch for five years where he attended university, moving to Rotorua at the end of last year and had not yet been in contact with his friends.

"I definitely didn't think that there was anything this extreme at all. I am super surprised and obviously just so disappointed.

"I can see it having pretty longterm effects," he said.

"Something of this magnitude isn't just swept under the rug."

Rotorua mother Mataku-Ariki de Roo was born and raised in Christchurch, and moved up 10 years ago. Her mother and siblings and their children still live there.

She said as soon as she saw the news her heart raced.

"As soon as I saw the news I text and rang them. It was a relief to hear they were safe."

De Roo's nieces were in lockdown at their schools following the shooting.

John Paul College principal Patrick Walsh said a number of former students were studying in Christchurch and parents and staff had been taking calls from them.

"Parents have been taking calls from their kids and are just absolutely shocked and terrified by it all. Our thoughts and prayers are with the community and it is just an unfortunate time."

He said the school had a planned lockdown scheduled for next week but this event brought home the point that lockdowns were a necessary exercise for schools around the country.

Former John Paul College student Cian Hinton moved to Christchurch this year to begin
university and was affected by the lockdown of the accommodation halls.

Hinton said he had been receiving a lot of messages.

"I had notified my family pretty early on about it so they seem to be calm, mostly."

Abby Ayson, 22, moved to Rotorua in November after living in Christchurch for four years for university and was shocked beyond words at news of the shooting.

Her boyfriend lived in Christchurch and she felt "powerless".

Lynmore Primary School principal Lorraine Taylor said it was a distressing time and she was supporting Islamic parents personally.

She said that after having an annual global peace run at the school on Tuesday for this to happen days later was deeply distressing.

— Reporting team: Cira Oliver, Zizi Sparks, Leah Tebbutt, Sam Olley.