March the 15th 2019 was known as the day Christchurch lost its innocence, a day where evil was able to overwhelm a city still very much getting back on its feet.
But darkness was quickly overwhelmed by love and compassion. In the weeks following the terror attacks, our emotions jumped between shock, disbelief and grief.
As a city, we tried to manage best we could, and despite the knowledge one person was in custody, the presence of heavily armed police in the central city and the sounds of military-styled helicopters in the air reinforced a new and unsettling reality. Every school in Christchurch was placed into lock down, an unprecedented measure in scale on global terms.
We were thrust into the glaring international media spotlight, and as much as we didn’t want to believe it, evil had won for a brief moment in time. But residents of this city refused to allow Christchurch to be defined by hate. And despite unwelcomed and wrong narratives of some fringe media outlets, Christchurch was rightfully being described as the city of compassion.
The outpouring of love from residents, the sea of flowers that lined Rolleston Avenue, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s empathy helped define the city’s strength of unity. The images that beamed across the world showed our caring nature and may have prevented any retaliation. If the motivations of evil were to divide people, it did the opposite. Stories of heroism, bravery, family heart ache and beautiful tributes drowned out the perpetrator's craving for notoriety.
The one good thing that came out of this tragedy was personally meeting strong minded and truly incredible human beings, like Najah Mohamed and Sadra Sultani who cared for victims and their families after the attacks. I interviewed them in the days following the shootings and was overwhelmed by their sense of security, despite returning to their place of worship that had been the scene of New Zealand’s worst terror attack.
Then there’s Temel Atacocugu, who survived the massacre despite being shot nine times. His resolve to move on and focus on the good aspects of live in Christchurch is inspiring.
Social media companies are removing extreme content, but they’re taking their time. But there have been glimmers of hope, as explained by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. When I spoke to her last week, she highlighted the recent terror attack in Germany that was broadcast on social media and says it was quickly shut down, and the attack was seen by two thousand people.
Christchurch may have lost its innocence on March the 15th, and it was one of New Zealand’s darkest days, but with the support of residents, including the Muslim community, we’ve been able to shine a light on compassion and love, and may that continue.