GRAPHIC CONTENT WARNING: THIS STORY CONTAINS DETAILS WHICH READERS MIGHT FIND UPSETTING

Seventeen months after 51 people were murdered at two Christchurch mosques during the worst act of terror ever seen on New Zealand soil, the survivors and family members who lost loved ones have finally got justice. It came after four extraordinary days at the High Court in Christchurch, witnessed by Herald senior journalists Kurt Bayer and Anna Leask - and one quiet, ordinary hero in the back row.

It was an extraordinary procession. One after the other, a relentless stream of grief, loss, hurt, and anger.

Men, women, teenagers.

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Refugees, new migrants, generational Kiwis.

Widows, orphans, parents.

The permanently injured, the irreparably damaged.

Hands trembling, in fear, in anger, they took strength from their faith, spurred on by the memories of their fallen loved ones, or by those reassuring hands on their shoulders, urging them on.

For 17 hours, give or take, Justice Cameron Mander sat and let them speak.

One after another, they would stand, becoming ever emboldened, and tell the mass murderer – not looking so menacing now, they'd muse, weapon-less in the glass-cased dock surrounded by four burly prison guards, visibly balding and in saggy grey jail trackies – that he was a coward.

A loser. A heinous racist and rat who deserved to die on a rubbish heap.

One by one they came.

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Seventeen months of heartache, rage, guilt, fear, flashbacks, sleepless nights, depression, confusion, regret, devastation and horror came flowing out into the court room.

And loss – all kinds of loss.

Not just people, not just income, not just love – but stability and normality, trust and security.

The soft snore of a husband in bed at night.

The laughter between a father playing Lego with his sons.

A mother's friendship.

Dad jokes.

All gone.

One man – Brenton Harrison Tarrant – took it all away.

And this week he was forced to sit and listen to the people left reeling from the attack explain in gutwrenching detail how that had affected them.

Brenton Tarrant sat in the Christchurch High Court this week as people left reeling from the attack explained in gut-wrenching detail how that day had affected them. Photo / Pool
Brenton Tarrant sat in the Christchurch High Court this week as people left reeling from the attack explained in gut-wrenching detail how that day had affected them. Photo / Pool

Five, 10 minutes they would stand and deliver their powerful words; words that hung in the eerie, quiet air of the courtroom.

And then, they would thank the judge, who acknowledged them sincerely in return, and they were gone.

Replaced by the next sorrow-filled family, barely time to digest what just happened.

Covid-19 restrictions meant numbers in the High Court in Christchurch were limited.

The roads blocked off, rooftops crawling with dark-clad snipers.

Specialist cops with long-barrelled rifles roamed the footpaths, manned the entrances, stood at doorways, recalling those dark days in the aftermath of March 15, 2019 mosque shootings.

There were very few seats to go round.

With lawyers, victim support officers, security, journalists, there were just around 20 victims in the main courtroom 12 at any time.

The rest overflowed into seven other rooms watching live on big screens.

But a few seats were reserved for the public.

Special cases, mainly. Interested parties.

One of those was Len Peneha. He has arrived early every day to ensure a seat, and has witnessed every moment of the harrowing, landmark four-day sentencing hearing.

Mostly he sat there quietly. Arms folded across his broad chest.

Occasionally he would nod, or release one of his free and easy laughs, when the gunman was mocked for being a coward, or penguin, for the way he waddled into the dock each morning at 10am.

And once, when one of the ten people he saved from the slaughter at the Al Noor Mosque delivered his scathing victim impact in court, he couldn't help himself: "Yes, Mohamed!" he cried and applauded.

When the shooting started at Al Noor, Mohamed Adwy ran for his life into the mosque's rear car-park area. He managed to scramble over a high, concrete fence to escape.

He found himself up a long driveway, shared by a row of townhouses.

One of them belonged to Peneha. One of the true March 15 heroes.

Len Peneha lived behind the Al Noor Mosque and bravely helped numerous worshippers escape over the back fence during the shooting. Photo / Mike Scott
Len Peneha lived behind the Al Noor Mosque and bravely helped numerous worshippers escape over the back fence during the shooting. Photo / Mike Scott

The IT consultant had popped home for lunch when he started hearing gunshots.

Heading upstairs to the second floor of his townhouse, he could see people "scattering everywhere", with some trying to climb the 2m-high concrete wall over to his place.

He bolted downstairs and started dragging people over the fence.

One of them was Adwy. He believes Peneha saved his life.

The horrors he witnessed on March 15 last year has stayed with Peneha over the last 17 months.

He had to move away from that townhouse as it had too many terrible, haunting memories. He too has suffered flashbacks. Not a day goes by, that he doesn't think back to that day.

And so he felt it was important to bear witness to this week's sentencing of the gunman.

He hoped it would give him closure on what's been the most traumatic, upsetting episode of his life.

"I've sat through every single minute, mainly I needed to be here for myself, to get some closure," he said.

"Being here, listening to the victim impact reports, has lifted a whole veil of emotional stuff, a burden, off my shoulders. It's definitely helped me. But I also wanted to be here to support the Muslim community and also represent New Zealanders. It's actually been quite uplifting for me."

Looking down the driveway to Len Peneha's former home next to the Al Noor Mosque. Photo / Mike Scott
Looking down the driveway to Len Peneha's former home next to the Al Noor Mosque. Photo / Mike Scott

Hearing the Crown's summary of facts – the official narrative of the attacks – being read for the first time helped him piece together aspects of March 15 that he'd often wondered about.

"I play it over and over in my head all the time. Every day I remember it. So it becomes a bit fuzzy after a while, especially what happened at a particular time. So that was great to hear, but at the same time, so very sad. The horrific injuries that some of these people have suffered, and how they were killed…"

But it was hearing the victims' powerful words that has really struck Peneha.

"My heart dropped for them – that they had to go through all of this," he said.

"There's a lot of hurt but also a lot of support. And I hope that after this, that support will go on."

Peneha's story was not shared in the courtroom – though it was an equally important and tremendous part of the March 15 narrative – but 91 other people stepped up to the lectern to share what they had been through since New Zealand's darkest day.

Their stories will never truly be told, for there really are no words to describe their experience, their suffering.

But they tried, in a plethora of accents, in Māori, in Arabic, in various languages – to convey what was in their deepest of hearts.

PAIN

Gunshot wounds and fractures where bullets smashed through bones; shrapnel smattered through bodies; internal organs pierced; paralysis.

These are just some of the injuries sustained by the 40 people Tarrant shot but did not kill.

"I'm in a wheelchair for the rest of my life," said Sazada Akhter, 26.

"I was very sick for a very long time.

"Every moment is still very hard… I can't sleep; I have lots of problems all over my body… I can't do anything normal anymore."

Akhter took a single bullet to her back which caused irreparable spinal fractures and injured her liver, kidney and lungs.

She was in a coma for 35 days then in hospital for months – she will never walk again and still needs round-the-clock care.

Sazada Akhter was in a coma for 35 days. She will never walk again. Photo / Pool
Sazada Akhter was in a coma for 35 days. She will never walk again. Photo / Pool

She wants children – but Tarrant may have taken that from her too with the bullet that smashed through her body.

"While you are in prison, please think about what you have done to me," she urged him.

Temel Atacocugu was shot nine times.

Bullets struck the Turkish Kiwi in the jaw, left side of the chest, left thigh and calf and his left arm, which also caused compound fractures.

He's had five operations – the fifth on Tuesday, the day after he read his statement.

"Six bullets were removed from my body but three remain… Over the last 12 months I have required multiple long surgeries and have further surgeries scheduled," he said.

"I suffer ongoing daily pain."

Taj Mohammad Kamran was fit and healthy – but now needs a walking stick.

"I have about 1000 bits of shrapnel throughout my body that will always be there," he explained.

Sahadat Mohammed was shot in the shoulder at Linwood Mosque, requiring four operations including painful bone grafts.

The father-of-four still has bullet fragments inside him, with some near his heart, and some in his lungs.

Sahadat Mohammed and his wife, Parveen Tarnnum. Mohammed still has bullet fragments inside him. Photo / Pool
Sahadat Mohammed and his wife, Parveen Tarnnum. Mohammed still has bullet fragments inside him. Photo / Pool

Osman Aweys Ahmed also has ongoing pain due to bullet fragments invading her body.

"I was shot in the back and will always have fragments from the bullet in my body," she said.

"The pain at times was unbearable and I will always have some degree of pain for the rest of my life.

"My life will never be the same."

FEAR 

The survivors of the mosque attacks do not fear Tarrant – but those like him.

What he did that dark, horrible day has made them paranoid, scared, reluctant to be in big groups, alone in public – or even at their own mosque.

Rosemary Omar's son Tariq was killed at Al Noor Mosque.

"I worry and wonder if my family will ever be safe… I have to endure this worry in my life now, I feel like I am in a dark place," said Rosemary.

She has isolated herself to the point of having to give up her job – and can't even go to her usual supermarket.

"I don't like being in public and I don't like being noticed… my car has become a traumatic memory place for me," she said.

"I feel really uneasy there, I'm always on watch searching around for threats."

Ambreen Rashid feels scared every time the she leaves the house to go for a walk.

Her husband Rashid Naeem and son Talha Naeem died at Al Noor and she is constantly worried that the killer might have inspired others in the community to follow his lead.

She thinks about it every time she leaves the house.

Mulki Husein Abdiwahab says her days are 
Mulki Husein Abdiwahab says her days are "punctuated" by things that force flashbacks of the horror she saw at the Al Noor Mosque. Photo / Pool 

For Mulki Husein Abdiwahab – there are many things that trigger her.

Her days are "punctuated" by things that force flashbacks of the horror she saw at the Al Noor Mosque.

"I am angry I am now visible… There is a risk that I will be marked my whole life," she said, fearing others like Tarrant will target her.

"I escaped physical harm but my emotional wounds go deep where no one can see them."

Mohammed Samri Hassan Ameen knows that feeling well.

He was at the Linwood Mosque when Tarrant opened fire. He can't go back there now.

"For a long time I was scared to go out… this still affects me now sometimes," he said.

He cannot go to the Linwood Mosque anymore as it brings back too many terrifying memories.

Che Ta Binti Mat Ludin returned to live in Singapore saying she no longer felt safe in Christchurch. Photo / Pool
Che Ta Binti Mat Ludin returned to live in Singapore saying she no longer felt safe in Christchurch. Photo / Pool

For Che Ta Binti Mat Ludin the fear Tarrant created within her was too overwhelming to stay in New Zealand.

"As a result of the shooting I returned to live in Malaysia, I felt unsafe in Christchurch," she said.

"I feel reluctant to socialise and don't feel like talking to people much."

She had a "traumatic feeling" of being unsafe, had flashbacks and was paranoid.

ANGER

They say anger is the third stage of grief – and it's fair to say many of the victims are feeling this keenly at the moment.

Wasseim and Azma Daragmih will likely never get over their anger – Tarrant shot their little girl.

The preschooler cannot be named for legal reasons but was seriously wounded and was lucky to survive the attack.

"She was four years old at the time… Thankfully we have survived because you don't know how to use a gun – except from zero point," said Wasseim.

Wasseim Daragmih's young daughter was shot in the attack. Photo / Pool
Wasseim Daragmih's young daughter was shot in the attack. Photo / Pool

At that, many in the court laughed at Tarrant.

Tarrant himself burst out laughing briefly, then caught himself and covered his mouth with his hand as he tried to regain his composure.

Wasseim mocked him further, the fury he felt visible, audible, almost tangible.

"Your heart has led you to such a lonely and miserable place where you deserve to go."

"I come today to enjoy and laugh as he's sitting in the dock and me enjoying my freedom - and that's where you deserve to be."

Ahad Nabi's 71-year-old father Haji Nabi was shot and killed at Al Noor.

As he read his statement, wearing a NZ Warriors rugby league jersey, one hand shook, the other fist clenched tightly.

"Your actions were of gutless character," he spat at Tarrant.

Ahad Nabi's father was shot and killed at Al Noor. In court Nabi called Tarrant the 'scum of the world'. Photo / Pool
Ahad Nabi's father was shot and killed at Al Noor. In court Nabi called Tarrant the 'scum of the world'. Photo / Pool

"While you are in prison you will come to reality that you are now in hell – and only the fire awaits you."

"Your father was a garbage man and you became the trash of society… you deserve to be buried in a landfill… you are "scum of the world".

Matiullah Safi was a father of five boys – and they stood in line in court to face his killer yesterday.

"He is a loner, a big fat loser – a coward and a pathetic human being," Jibran Safi shouted, flanked by his siblings.

"You will not be remembered. You are a nobody. You will rot in jail alone."

In a powerful show of family unity the young men shouted at the killer in Arabic, a defiant display of their fury at the mass murderer.

Farisha Razak's slain father Ashraf Ali was a man who forgave – but she would do nothing of the sort when it came to Tarrant.

Ashraf Ali was killed on March 15. Photo / Supplied
Ashraf Ali was killed on March 15. Photo / Supplied

Razak said had her dad lived he would have said "it's ok baby, everyone makes mistakes".

"I'm not my dad, I would never forgive you for what you've done, you've ruined people's lives… you don't deserve anybody's sympathy – you are a monster," she barked in her video statement.

"Nobody wants you buddy – you brought shame to everyone who knew you… you  are a loser and deserve to not see the light of day.

"You don't deserve anything easy, you deserve to suffer… You are not a nice person."

BRAVERY

Amid the feeling, emotion and white hot impassioned rage shared in the courtroom were also tales of bravery – some revealed for the first time.

There was Naeem Rashid, 50, who ran at Tarrant as he methodically murdered people inside Masjid Al Noor.

As fellow worshippers fell dead and wounded around him, Rashid ran at the gunman.

He was about 1m from Tarrant when he swung the AR-15 gun around and fired four shots at point blank range with one shot hitting Rashid's left shoulder.

Rashid crashed into the gunman, sending him down to one knee.

Rashid Naeem (left) and son Talhar died at Al Noor. Rashid lost his life after rushing gunman Brenton Tarrant. Photo / Supplied
Rashid Naeem (left) and son Talhar died at Al Noor. Rashid lost his life after rushing gunman Brenton Tarrant. Photo / Supplied

The impact dislodged one of the ammunition magazines from his tactical vest.

Rashid lay on his back and in an attempt to shield his body pulled his arms and knees up to his chest. Tarrant fired at him, the summary says.

The shooter got up, withdrew a few steps and fired a further three aimed shots at Rashid, hitting him in the chest, hand and arm. Rashid remained in that position and was later pronounced dead at the scene.

"Mr Rashid's actions allowed a number of other worshippers to escape," the court heard in the summary of facts, the official narrative of events.

At Linwood Mosque there was Abdul Aziz Wahabzadah who chased the rampaging shooter and drew gunfire from just metres away.

Desperate to defend himself, Wahabzadah grabbed an Eftpos-card reader and threw it at him.

Yesterday Justice Mander thanked him for his courage, saying without doubt he had saved lives.

Justice Mander thanked Abdul Aziz Wahabzadah for his courage. Photo / Pool
Justice Mander thanked Abdul Aziz Wahabzadah for his courage. Photo / Pool

Then there was Nathan Smith a Brit who converted to Islam nine years ago - a decision he said was the best he's ever made.

"After you left (Al Noor) I was surrounded by the dying, the injured and the dead… I held a 3-year-old boy in my arms praying he was still alive – but he was not," he said.

Smith checked "many people" to see if they were alive.

"To find they were already dead… People were dying all around me… I stayed with one person blocking his wound and holding his hand. That person survived."

And we heard the tragic account of Saira Patel who tried in vain to save her husband's life.

As Musa Vali Suleman Patel bled to death on the floor of the Linwood Mosque,  Saira used her bare hands in a frantic attempt to stop him dying.

"I pulled his shirt up and saw the bullet… the bullet was very visible as it had pierced itself inside the  bones… pressed both my hands on the bullet holes but my hands kept slipping off because of the heavy blood flow," she recalled.

"It was extremely painful to feel so helpless while watching your soulmate take his last breath."

UNITY

They are all heartbroken in their own ways – but their message to Tarrant was clear, he had not broken them.

"Your heinous act brought millions together in solidarity with us," said Hamimah Tuyan, whose husband Zekeria died in hospital from his injures almost 50 days after the massacre.

"Let this be a lesson, let you be a lesson for your sympathisers and supporters."

"Your heinous act brought millions together in solidarity with us," Hamimah Tuyan told Tarrant in court. Photo / Pool

Victims and survivors spoke of "overwhelming" support for the Muslim community, a growing awareness, understanding and acceptance of Islam in New Zealand and solidarity.

"After that event we have received a lot of love… people greet me with salam now, which means peace be upon you… which I never expected, and because of you," said Mohamad Adwy.

"This event made us more united, stronger… you are the biggest loser.

"We are all the winners – you have to understand that."

Raesha Ismail – sister of murdered man Junaid - said a positive of the terror attack was that she was more "empowered" and "more open" about her faith.

She was now dedicated to sharing more of her faith with her workmates, friends and community.

FORGIVENESS

Forgiveness is not a concept many could understand when it comes to Tarrant.

But for some victims – that is the only way forward.

For them, anger is pointless, rage is unhelpful, hate is debilitating.

Their faith tells them to forgive, and they have.

"I have forgiven you Brenton. Even though you murdered my 14-year-old son Sayyad," John Milne told the man who gunned down his youngest child.

The murder has left a huge hole in his heart that will only heal when he sees his son again in heaven, he said.

"I hope to see you there too Brenton. And if you get the chance, I would love you to say sorry to Sayyad. I am sure he has forgiven you too.

"Once again, you are forgiven unconditionally, Brenton. Please remember his name Sayyaad."

John Milne holds a photograph of his son, Sayyad Milne, who was killed. Milne told Tarrant in court he forgives him. Photo / Pool
John Milne holds a photograph of his son, Sayyad Milne, who was killed. Milne told Tarrant in court he forgives him. Photo / Pool

Janna Ezat's son Hussen Al-Umari was among the dead.

But she could not hold that against the killer.

"I decided to forgive you Mr Tarrant, because I don't have hate," she said.

"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."

Khadra Ibrahim's 3-year-old brother Mucaad was the youngest murder victim.

Based in Perth, she had never met the toddler in person and promised him in their last video call that she would come to Christchurch and see him.

That promise will never be fulfilled. Now she can only visit him at his grave.

Khadra had anger and hate towards Tarrant but she was trying to turn those feelings into something positive.

Mucaad was "incredibly special" and close to her heart – but she forgave Tarrant.

JUSTICE

Today, after all their words were shared, their tears shed and their broken hearts laid bare for the world to see – again – the man responsible for all of their pain was jailed.

The monster, the beast, the son of the devil, the piece of sh*t, the scum of the earth, the coward, the rat, the loser.

Brenton Harrison Tarrant, the man in the saggy gray tracksuit, unarmed and doing his best to remain unphased, was jailed for life for his crimes.

He has hurt them, they will never really heal – but at least he can take no more lives or spill any more blood.