SAN DIEGO (NEWS 8 / AP) – At least 49 people were shot to death at two mosques during midday prayers Friday — most if not all of them gunned down by an immigrant-hating white supremacist who apparently used a helmet-mounted camera to broadcast live video of the slaughter on Facebook.
The shock and pain of the horrific mass shooting in New Zealand filled the Islamic Center of San Diego.
You could see it on their faces and hear it in their voices – feelings of grief and anxiety.
“Shock and of course fear. This is the worst nightmares of any Muslim community. It is another act of violence against faith communities,” said Dustin Craun, the Executive Director of San Diego’s Chapter for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
On Friday afternoon, hundreds of worshipers sought comfort through prayer inside the mosque. Outside, another group of mourners, all non-Muslim – gathered to show their support and speak out against gun violence.
“It seemed like we definitely have to be here to support the Muslim community,” said a supporter.
Their presence evoked strong emotions form worshipers as they left the service.
“It is really beautiful to have our interfaith allies both inside the mosque today and outside,” said a worshiper.
It was as kind gesture that gave people a sense of positivity and hope as they continue to deal with the aftermath of yet another tragedy. Yet, there is no denying that the threat of violence is now a reality for all places of worship.
It was by far the deadliest shooting in modern New Zealand history.
"It is clear that this can now only be described as a terrorist attack," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said, noting that many of the victims could be migrants or refugees.
She pronounced it "one of New Zealand's darkest days."
The gunman also livestreamed in graphic detail 17 minutes of his rampage at Al Noor Mosque, where, armed with at least two assault rifles and a shotgun, he sprayed worshipers with bullets over and over, killing at least 41 people. Several more people were killed in an attack on a second mosque in the city a short time later.
At least 48 people were wounded, some critically. Police also defused explosive devices in a car.
On Saturday, the prime minister said the "primary perpetrator" in the shootings was a licensed gun owner and legally acquired the five guns used. Ardern said the country's gun laws will change as a result of the carnage, but she did not specify how.
New Zealand is also generally considered to be welcoming to migrants and refugees.
The prime minister said the attack reflected "extremist views that have absolutely no place in New Zealand."
Immigrants "have chosen to make New Zealand their home, and it is their home," Ardern said. "They are us."
One man was arrested and charged with murder. Brenton Harrison Tarrant appeared in court Saturday morning amid strict security and showed no emotion when the judge read him one murder charge. The judge said "it was reasonable to assume" more such charges would follow.
Two other armed suspects were taken into custody while police tried to determine what role, if any, they played in the cold-blooded attack that stunned New Zealand, a country so peaceful that police officers rarely carry guns.
"Although there is no indication of a specific threat in the San Diego area, you will see an increased police presence around places of worship," San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit said. "We ask that if anyone has any information on threats of violence to please report it immediately. It is vital that we are made aware of potential threats so we are able to investigate and ultimately prevent injuries and loss of life."