On March 15, New Zealand changed. Some are calling it a loss of innocence, a reminder that distance doesn't bring protection against violence. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has vowed to change gun laws and investigate what went wrong. This is how 36 minutes of terror unfolded.
Ardern's office and about 30 other people get a chilling email allegedly from Brenton Tarrant. He has attached a manifesto as he tries to justify why he is about to carry out his act.
Tarrant, a 28-year-old Australian who the prime minister says wasn't on the radar of the country's intelligence or law enforcement agencies, held a valid gun license.
A member of Ardern's staff sees the email and, two minutes after it arrives, forwards it to parliamentary security. But Tarrant's plan is allegedly already in motion.
He sitting in his gold Subaru station wagon in a parking area in a black paramilitary outfit.
It's Friday prayers, and the Al Noor mosque is filled with people. The imam, Gamal Fouda, has just finished the Khutbah, a sermon delivered in Arabic. He is starting the next part in which he translates it into English. The Khutbah is the most serious part of the prayer, where rapt attention is required and the worshippers are silent.
The sermon is about cooperating with each other, doing good and stopping evil.
As the gunman approaches the mosque, a man in the entrance calls out cheerfully, "Hello, brother."
Fouda hears shooting in the hallway and sees people start to run. He stops speaking. "It was chaos," he says.
An Algerian man smashes a window on one side of the room, Fouda says, and people start pouring out through the jagged glass. On the other side, the people there try to do the same.
"And he was actually standing behind them, and he was shooting and shooting and shooting and shooting," Fouda says. "Tragedy. Tragedy."
Fifty-year-old Naeem Rashid, a teacher who moved to New Zealand from Pakistan with his family when he was 11, rushes up behind the gunman, trying to grab his weapon. He is shot dead.
Asif Shaikh, 44, tries to run but falls. He thinks about trying to make it to the exit when he sees somebody else make the same move and get shot. So he lies there, next to an old man who has been shot in the thigh. They are exposed and uncovered, but somehow they survive. Days later he still can't sleep, the sounds of gunshots ringing in his head.
Kawthar Abulaban, 54, is in the women's prayer area with a couple of dozen other women. She hears a single shot at first, enough for some of them to jump up and ask, "What's wrong?" Then a pause and a second shot and a dawning realization. Soon, there is a barrage of bullets. Dozens upon dozens upon dozens.
The women scatter in all directions. Three huddle together in a cupboard in one of the bathrooms. Abulaban runs out of the mosque.
Since firing the first shot, the gunman has spent six minutes at the mosque. There are no sounds of sirens, no armed police teams arriving. People are proud of New Zealand's friendliness. Unlike in most other countries, the police don't carry guns. They keep them in their cars for emergencies.
The worst mass shooting up until now was nearly 30 years ago in the small town of Aramoana, where a gunman killed 13 people following a dispute with a neighbor.
The gunman gets back in his car.
When Paul Bennett, an ambulance driver, arrives later, he sees blood flowing along the terra cotta tiles.
"There was a river of blood coming out of the mosque," he says.
The shooter's rampage continues as he drives away from the Al Noor mosque. Yasir Amin and his father, Muhammad Amin Nasir, are walking along the sidewalk when a car stops and a man begins firing.
They run, but at 67, Nasir can't keep up with his son. As Amin turns to yell at his father to get down, he sees the older man has already been hit and is falling.
The gunman drives away. Nasir stares up at his son, unable to speak, blood pooling around his body. Amin grabs a phone from a nearby car and calls police. Father and son are taken to the hospital, where a critically wounded Nasir begins his recovery.
Neighbor Len Peneha helps several people who have escaped the mosque take shelter in his house until police arrive.
"It's unbelievable nutty," he says. "I don't understand how anyone could do this to these people, to anyone. It's ridiculous."
The gunman speeds toward the Linwood mosque.
The Linwood mosque is about 5 kilometers from the Al Noor mosque but isn't as grand. It's a plain building.
Inside, 33-year-old Elliot Dawson is praying with about 80 others when he hears the first shots. No one reacts at first because they're immersed in prayer.
Latef Alabi, who is leading the prayers, peeks out the window. When he sees the gunman in his black gear and helmet, carrying a big gun, he thinks it's a police officer and isn't worried.
"I realized this is something else. This is a killer," he says.
The gunshots continue. Dawson's friend goes outside and comes running back in:
"Everyone, get down! Get down! Get down!"
Dawson hurries to a bathroom, huddles in a stall and climbs onto the toilet so his feet won't be visible. He tries to squeeze through a window but can't fit. He wonders if this is the moment his life will end.
Another man in the mosque, Abdul Aziz, picks up a hand-held credit card machine and rushes outside screaming, hoping to distract the attacker. As the gunman runs back to his Subaru to get another gun, Aziz throws the machine at him.
Aziz's two younger sons are yelling at him to come back inside. The shooter has gotten a gun and returns, firing at him. Aziz runs, zigzagging through cars in the driveway. He picks up a gun that has been tossed aside, aims and fires, but it's empty.
The gunman runs back to his car again, probably to grab yet another weapon.
"He gets into his car and I just got the gun and threw it on his window like an arrow and blasted his window," Aziz said.
The windshield shatters: "That's why he got scared."
The gunman drives away, and Aziz chases the car down the street to a red light before it makes a U-turn and speeds away.
Seven people are dead at the Linwood mosque, a number many think could have been much higher if not for the actions of Aziz. One more person dies later at Christchurch Hospital and the death toll reaches 50.
Dawson says that someday, he hopes to come back to the mosque to pray again. He later stands on the street outside the mosque, holding a sign that reads, "We're all the same on the inside."
Two police officers ram the gunman's car, forcing it off the road, and drag him out. The next day he is charged with one count of murder, with more charges expected.
Many of the victims had moved to New Zealand to seek better lives in a country known for its beauty, friendliness and safety. Among the victims are engineers, business owners, students and a goalkeeper for the national futsal team. It is a modified form of soccer, typically played indoors.
The youngest of the victims is Mucaad Ibrahim, 3, who had big brown eyes and always seemed to be laughing. He had an intelligence beyond his years, a friend says. And he loved watching his big brother play soccer.
- Associated Press