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Emergency response like trying to put together 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle, terror inquest finds

Author
RNZ,
Publish Date
Wed, 29 Nov 2023, 2:54PM
Flowers outside Al Noor Mosque following the attack on March 15, 2019. Photo / RNZ
Flowers outside Al Noor Mosque following the attack on March 15, 2019. Photo / RNZ

Emergency response like trying to put together 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle, terror inquest finds

Author
RNZ,
Publish Date
Wed, 29 Nov 2023, 2:54PM

By RNZ

A senior police tactical commander has likened the emergency response to the Christchurch terror attack to trying to put together a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle dumped upside down on the floor.

The Armed Offenders Squad (AOS) officer, in the role of Zero-Alpha, quickly moved from the squad room to sit alongside incident controller Senior Sergeant Roy Appley in the Southern Communications Centre as the crisis unfolded on March 15, 2019.

The policeman told the inquest into the deaths of 51 people murdered at the Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Centre that he was working very hard.

“It was like someone had dumped a thousand-piece jigsaw on the floor and all those pieces were upside down and each piece of that jigsaw was a relevant piece of information that we had to know, but I’d pick each one of them up and put it in the jigsaw and try and figure out where it fit within the picture,” he said.

“We tried our very best to pick each piece up and put it where it should go.”

Deputy Chief Coroner Brigitte Windley. Photo / George Heard
Deputy Chief Coroner Brigitte Windley. Photo / George Heard

The commander let an AOS team leave the scene of the first shooting at Al Noor Mosque for Linwood, despite a police officer saying there were already enough people in Linwood Avenue because he believed there could be more gunmen.

An AOS team leader previously told the inquest he regretted leaving injured victims at Al Noor to attend the Linwood scene.

The Zero-Alpha officer told the Coroners Court he heard over police radio that there were six armed offenders at Linwood and the terrorist had falsely claimed there were nine other shooters in Canterbury. He was also concerned about the possibility of an offender going to Eastgate Mall nearby.

Given what had occurred at Al Noor, the officer said the possibility of six armed gunmen at Linwood was a “catastrophic thought”.

It was “certainly my thinking” that more than just one tactical unit was required at Linwood, he said.

Communication between AOS members was not recorded during the terror attack because their vehicle had a flat battery and they could not use the usual cassette tape system.

Flowers outside Al Noor Mosque following the attack on March 15, 2019. Photo / RNZ
Flowers outside Al Noor Mosque following the attack on March 15, 2019. Photo / RNZ

Recording the radio channel no longer required using a cassette tape.

Asked by deputy chief Coroner Brigitte Windley what could have made his job easier, the officer said he wondered if the presence of a St John commander at the Southern Communications Centre would have helped.

He did not know if there was much that could have been done to improve his response, although he did wish the AOS tactical radio had been recorded.

The inquest will examine the following 10 issues over six weeks: 

  • Events of March 15, 2019 from the commencement of the attack until the terrorist’s formal interview by police 
  • Response times and entry processes of police and ambulance officers at each mosque 
  • Triage and medical response at each mosque 
  • The steps that were taken to apprehend the offender 
  • The role of, and processes undertaken by, Christchurch Hospital in responding to the attack 
  • Coordination between emergency services and first responders 
  • Whether the terrorist had any direct assistance from any other person on March 15, 2019 
  • If raised by immediate family, and to the extent it can be ascertained, the final movements and time of death for each of the deceased 
  • The cause of death for each of the victims and whether any deaths could have been avoided 
  • Whether Al Noor Mosque emergency exit door in the southeast corner of the main prayer room failed to function during the attack and, if so, why? 

The inquest continues. 

- RNZ 

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