"We come here to pray. We don't do any harm to others."

That was Rahman Rocky's reaction to the news gunmen had fired upon gatherings of fellow Muslims at mosques in Christchurch yesterday.

Tauranga police officers were at the mosque talking to those who had attended the 2pm prayer session and armed officers stood guard throughout the afternoon and evening.

Leaders at Tauranga Mosque and Gurudwara Kalgidhar Sahib Tauranga mosque said there would be no prayer sessions or gatherings at each temple last night.

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Police asked all mosques nationally to shut their doors, and advised that people refrained from visiting these premises until further notice.

Rocky was shocked to hear reports of the shooting when the Bay of Plenty Times spoke to him soon after the news broke.

Police at Tauranga Mosque. Photo / Andrew Warner
Police at Tauranga Mosque. Photo / Andrew Warner

"I never thought it could happen here ... I'm safe, you're safe."

He said Friday was a particularly busy time when many people visited the mosque to pray.

"We come here to pray. We don't do any harm to others."

Rocky said he felt safer at Tauranga Mosque than in mosques in his home country, Bangladesh.

Senior Sergeant Rob Glencross attended Tauranga Mosque following the reported shootings in Christchurch.

Police speak with members of the Tauranga mosque. Photo / Andrew Warner
Police speak with members of the Tauranga mosque. Photo / Andrew Warner

He said the police were there to offer reassurance and keep the community safe.
Mohammed Abdul Kashem, treasurer of Tauranga Mosque, said nothing like this had happened in the 18 years he had been in New Zealand.

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Tauranga local Farzana Akter, who is of the Muslim religion, told the Bay of Plenty Times through tears that the shooting terrified her as her father went to the Tauranga Mosque five times a day for prayer.

"It could have happened anywhere."

She said the mosque was a family environment and Friday afternoon prayer could be compared to Sunday church in the Christian religion.

"People leave work early or leave events for Friday prayer, the mosque would have been full of people."

Police outside the Tauranga Mosque. 15 March 2019 Bay of Plenty Times Photograph by Andrew Warner.
Police outside the Tauranga Mosque. 15 March 2019 Bay of Plenty Times Photograph by Andrew Warner.

She said she was in absolute shock when she heard the news.

"I've never even had a religious hate comment here in New Zealand."

A former Tauranga woman now living in Christchurch, who did not wish to be named, said "it's pretty terrifying".

"My family is safe we are just staying indoors."

Another former Tauranga man now living and working in Christchurch said staff had been asked to stay indoors.

"We've been asked to stay indoors until we get any updates but not on lockdown, people are still able to leave if they want to."

Born and raised Cantabrian, Dr Peter Gilling from Tauranga, said: "I suppose it had to come to New Zealand shores at some stage.

"I know that mosque — it has been part of the community for years. But there is an element of Christchurch which is known for its extremist views and, if it was going to happen anywhere, I'm not surprised it's in Christchurch."

Tauranga Mosque worshipers (l-r) Khan Masum, Mohammed Abul Kashem, and Rahman Rocky. Photo / Andrew Warner
Tauranga Mosque worshipers (l-r) Khan Masum, Mohammed Abul Kashem, and Rahman Rocky. Photo / Andrew Warner

Gilling said he watched CNN on a regular basis and there was a "regular diet" of these things.

"I suppose you get a bit hardened to it by watching the international news feeds but you don't expect it to come to New Zealand."

Rhonnie Hughes, who moved to Tauranga after the devastating 2011 Christchurch earthquakes, said she was urgently trying to contact her two children in Christchurch.

"This is a horrendous shock."

Multicultural Tauranga president Ann Kerewaro said she was almost speechless when she first learned the news.

"I was absolutely gobsmacked. I just can't believe someone would go into a mosque and do something like this. It's so shocking and my heart goes out to the victims and their families," she said.

"This is something that happens overseas but not in New Zealand. "I still can't get my head around it.

"I'm almost speechless to be frank."

Kerewaro said she was sure there would be an outpouring of grief and offers of support
from the Tauranga community given the number of people here originally from
Christchurch or who possibly had family or friends living there.

"So many people will know someone in Christchurch either directly or indirectly and the ramifications of this tragedy will be huge," she said.

Neighbours of Tauranga Mosque said they were relieved armed police were standing guard yesterday.

Amrinder Singh and Sukhman Singh said they were a little bit frightened living so close to a mosque, but they felt a lot safer knowing police were nearby.

Singh said he had seen five or six police cars patrolling the area yesterday afternoon.

Both belonged to the Sikh religion and said they would be going to their temple last night to pray for those who had lost their lives.

Cassandra and Chanelle Bryan, sisters who live nearby, said what happened was "disgusting".

Bryan said as she has a 2-year-old daughter, she felt a lot better knowing armed police were around.

Former John Paul College student Cian Hinton moved to Christchurch this year to begin university and was in lockdown in the hall.

"As far as I know the entire campus, including accommodation, is still in lockdown but I haven't heard of anything happening in the vicinity," he said from his hall.

"Most of the information has been from online as the staff also seem to be mostly in the dark on the situation.

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