Our people in Christchurch
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Photo: STUFF/THE PRESS
The events that shocked a nation and the world had their epicentre in Christchurch.
The fact that this human act of devastation was visited on a city that had already suffered so much at the hands of Mother Nature seems doubly cruel. Ironically, it also meant that the city’s emergency responders and hospital staff had experience they could call on for dealing with multiple casualties and crowds of disoriented and distressed people. The police response was swift – the first officers were on the scene within six minutes, the AOS within 10. Twenty-one minutes after the first emergency call to comms, two rural police officers who had rushed to the scene rammed the alleged gunman’s vehicle, dragged him out and arrested him.
At the end of the rampage at two mosques, 49 people were dead (one more died later in hospital) and up to 50 were wounded. Amid the carnage and chaos, Police staff on the ground, and at district and national level, were doing all they could to protect the public and Police Association staff were doing all they could to support that work.
The first responders
The sound of gunfire was like someone knocking on a door… rat-a-tat, rat-a-tat.
It could still be heard when the first officers arrived at the Deans Avenue mosque.
As they went forward, they were confronted with chaos and confusion. They passed the bodies of people who had been gunned down after they had fled from their house of prayer.
Police tried to assist the injured and dying and then they entered the mosque to clear the rooms and hallways. One officer described it as “panic and bedlam”.
No one knew if the gunman was still in the vicinity.
The officers urged people to clear the area quickly, but many would not leave without knowing what had happened to those inside the mosque.
Reports came through about the incident at the Linwood mosque and then the news that a gunman had been arrested.
As police set up cordons, distraught members of the public continued to come up to them seeking reassurances that they were unable to give.
For officers at both crime scenes, whether they were fresh out of Police College, as some were, or old hands, no one had experienced anything like this before.
Meanwhile, many families of Police staff were left in the dark, without contact that afternoon, worried sick, not knowing if their loved ones were safe or not.
Later, one officer reflected: “We see this sort of thing overseas all the time, but for it to happen here, in Christchurch – really? I never thought this was something I would ever have to deal with in my police career.”
People had asked him if he had been scared, he said. “I didn’t have time to think about that. I was just dealing with what was happening, but I will never forget what I heard and saw that day”.
He, along with other staff, has been referred for a mandatory appointment with a psychologist.
He attended the Rolleston memorial with his young daughter. They took flowers. “It was very sombre. There were many messages of support and lots of hugs. I doubt that this is what the gunman wanted. People are different and have different backgrounds and beliefs and this has just brought us together. People have reacted with love, which I’m sure is not what he wanted.”
He doesn’t want to talk too much about everything he saw that day, but has said he is glad the Government has moved to implement gun reform laws. “Thank God they didn’t just announce a working party… They have made a decision and they have to stick to it.”