ChCHStrap

A man who tried to stop the Christchurch mosque gunman still can't sleep one year later, worrying that he "could have done better".

Abdul Aziz Wahabzadah threw an EFTPOS machine at the gunman in the carpark of the Linwood mosque, and chased after him on foot as the shooter sped away by car.

The mosque's acting imam, Latef Alabi, said at the time that the death toll would have been far higher if Wahabzadah hadn't fought back against the intruder.

"That's how we were saved," Alabi said. "Otherwise, if he managed to come into the mosque, then we would all probably be gone."

Advertisement

But Wahabzadah, who was in Manurewa today to hear a waiata composed for the victims by students at James Cook High School, said he still felt guilty that he couldn't stop the gunman killing seven people at the mosque.

A mass choir of 160 students at James Cook High School sang a special waiata for Linwood mosque leaders a year after the mosque shootings. Photo / Sylvie Whinray
A mass choir of 160 students at James Cook High School sang a special waiata for Linwood mosque leaders a year after the mosque shootings. Photo / Sylvie Whinray

"To be honest, I get two or three hours sleep every night," he said.

"I can't go to sleep for a long time because still I am guilty in my heart about what I could have done better to stop him."

Wahabzadah said his youngest son Yasuf, who was 5, still refused to go back to the mosque after he saw the gunman shooting at his father.

"Even now when I tell him, 'Let's go to the mosque,' he cries," his dad said.

Another son Omir, who was 11 when he witnessed the shooting, has never been the same.

Abdul Aziz Wahabzadah, who chased the gunman away from the Linwood mosque, still feels guilty that he didn't save more lives. Photo / Sylvie Whinray
Abdul Aziz Wahabzadah, who chased the gunman away from the Linwood mosque, still feels guilty that he didn't save more lives. Photo / Sylvie Whinray

"He is a lot quieter, he is not the same person he used to be. He is not as cheerful as he used to be, he has become a very quiet and not-speaking type of person," Wahabzadah said.

"He goes to the mosque sometimes, but not all the time.

Advertisement

"He had counselling. Even at school he got counselling, but the counselling can't do anything.

"I had counselling myself two or three times. After that I couldn't take it any more, I'd rather not talk about it. It didn't work for me."

Abdul Aziz Wahabzadah (right) with Hammond Matua (left), the James Cook High School teacher who composed a waiata for survivors of the Christchurch mosque shootings. Photo / Sylvie Whinray
Abdul Aziz Wahabzadah (right) with Hammond Matua (left), the James Cook High School teacher who composed a waiata for survivors of the Christchurch mosque shootings. Photo / Sylvie Whinray

Wahabzadah, 46, fled with his parents as refugees from Afghanistan when he was a child. The family spent three years in Pakistan until they were given refuge in Australia 30 years ago.

Wahabzadah brought his own children to New Zealand three and a half a years ago because he saw it as a peaceful country. He spent six weeks in Auckland, but felt that it was too busy too, and settled in Christchurch because it was "quiet". He runs a second-hand furniture shop in the beach suburb of Redcliffs.

He was standing by the door of the Linwood mosque on March 15 when he heard what at first he thought was fireworks, then heard someone shout that a person had been shot in the carpark.

He picked up the only thing he could find to defend himself, an eftpos machine, and ran outside.

Abdul Aziz Wahabzadah, flanked by Manurewa imam Abdul Qayyum and other local Muslims, in prayer at the memorial event at James Cook High School. Photo / Sylvie Whinray
Abdul Aziz Wahabzadah, flanked by Manurewa imam Abdul Qayyum and other local Muslims, in prayer at the memorial event at James Cook High School. Photo / Sylvie Whinray

Wahabzadah was so close to the gunman that "even a kid wouldn't miss".

"Almighty God saved my life," he said.

Abdul Aziz Wahabzadah (centre) with James Cook High School deputy principal Sa'id Milton (left) and Linwood mosque chair Ahmed Iqbal Jahangir (right). Photo / Sylvie Whinray
Abdul Aziz Wahabzadah (centre) with James Cook High School deputy principal Sa'id Milton (left) and Linwood mosque chair Ahmed Iqbal Jahangir (right). Photo / Sylvie Whinray

Although all of his immediate family survived, Wahabzadah said he felt close to everyone in the mosque, a small suburban place of worship with a usual attendance of 80 to 100 people.

"Sister Linda was like a bigger sister to us. When she got some news she always called me," he said.

"Brother Imran was like a brother to us. Everyone is like family to us."

READ MORE:
The Ripple Effect: How the Christchurch mosque shootings shattered a nation's heart
The Ripple Effect: The day after - horror of March 15 dawns on a country forever changed
The Ripple Effect: The frontline heroes of the Christchurch mosque shootings
The Ripple Effect: Hope, fear and gun laws - the fallout of March 15

But he told James Cook students that the gunman's message of hate was overwhelmed by the love shown to local Muslims from all over New Zealand and around the world.

"I have to keep myself strong for my family and for my community," he said.

"We have to move on with our life. It's not easy for us to move on, but we have to move on. That's why I say to the brothers and sisters that it has made us stronger."