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At Least 49 People Dead In New Zealand After Shootings At Mosques


Today, shock and mourning in Christchurch, New Zealand, and lots of questions about the terrorist attack that killed 49 people and injured dozens more at two mosques in the city. The attacks took place around Friday prayers. New Zealand's prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, updated the press on the investigation and revealed the shooter had five guns and a gun license.


PRIME MINISTER JACINDA ARDERN: While work is being done as to the chain of events that led to both the holding of this gun licence and the position of these weapons, I can tell you one thing right now - our gun laws will change.

CORNISH: Joining us now from Christchurch is Patrick Gower. He's national correspondent for New Zealand's Newshub network. And, Patrick, we know three people are in police custody. One has been charged with murder already, and they were appearing in court today. What can you tell us about what happened?

PATRICK GOWER: Yeah. Look - 49 people were killed yesterday, another 20 or more are still in hospital, including some young children, including people in critical condition. So that death toll could well rise, but 49 people killed by this gunman and potentially some of his associates yesterday. This court appearance is just happening in New Zealand. And although his identity is well-known around the world because he livestreamed the attack, he actually has image suppression in this country. So while his name could be released, the courts have at the moment ruled that, in this country at least, his image may not be able to be released.

CORNISH: In the meantime, New Zealand's police commissioner had warned people to stay away from mosques after the attack. Are members of the Muslim community speaking out?

GOWER: Yeah. Many are here in Christchurch. I'm standing outside the mosque - one of the mosques yesterday, the one where about 30 more - 30 or more Muslims were killed during prayer. Now, you have to realize, they were on their knees during prayer when this gunman came in and started shooting them. They are trying to speak out against Islamophobia and the disbelief that this could happen in a country like New Zealand, where we have very, very little, if any, anti-Muslim feeling. White supremacy like this is very hard to people to understand.

As for Muslims speaking out, we have a very high-profile Muslim in this country called Sonny Bill Williams. He is a star player for the All Blacks, the rugby team, which is our national game. He has posted to Instagram an emotional - in fact, he's broken into tears at losing his brothers in the mosque. That's our most high-profile Muslim speaking out against these attacks.

CORNISH: It's Saturday in New Zealand, and you have the prime minister essentially saying that she's vowing to change the country's gun laws. What's likely to be the reception to that?

GOWER: Well, everyone, you know, a great majority of people will want that to happen. Guns are not a big thing here in New Zealand, either. The last mass shooting we had was in 1990, to give your listeners some idea. Mass shootings are not an issue that we're worried about. Mass shootings are not something that we had to deal with. Gun laws, while we debate them, have never been front and center in this country because we don't have that many issues with gun crime. And so the prime minister, you know, will be talking about - it is relatively difficult to get a gun license here. I mean, I guess she will be talking about a ban on semiautomatic weapons, an outright ban.

CORNISH: That's reporter Patrick Gower, national correspondent for New Zealand's Newshub network. Thank you for your reporting.

GOWER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.