It may have been New Zealand’s darkest day, but leader Jacinda Ardern shone brightly.
While her nine month old baby slept soundly at home, the world’s youngest female head of government awoke to the nightmare of the toll of her nation’s most deadly terror attack. Like many, she had barely slept.
From the moment she was alerted of the shooter’s Friday rampage in Christchurch, allegedly by a 28-year-old Australian, the 38-year-old Prime Minister was the picture of calm control. The gunman had been remanded in custody 36 minutes after police were alerted of his deadly spree, she said.
By 9 am Saturday New Zealand time, she had vowed from Wellington to immediately tighten her nation’s gun laws. “I can tell you right now our gun laws will change,” she said.
She was then on a flight to Christchurch and by 1pm had donned a black headscarf in solidary with the grieving Muslim community there.
From Hagley College, one of the high schools in lockdown on Friday, to the Refugee and Migrant Centre in Christchurch, she delivered her message of love and support on behalf of all New Zealanders.
“New Zealand is united in grief,” she said, trying to soothe the south island city still reeling from the aftershock of its devestating earthquakes of 2010 and 2011.
She met Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel and members of the Muslim community, including the families of those killed. She assured them a major focus was on ensuring appropriate burial rites for the dead. They asked her to pray for them. Hundreds of floral tributes had already piled up Hagley Park near the Al Noor Mosque.
By 3.30 pm, she told the world the gory details as she knew them. At last count 49 had been killed, 39 injured remained in hospital, 11 in intensive care. The victims she said, ranged in age, from children, to people in their 70s. They were predominantly men, but there were women too.
Her main message, was for the safety of Cantabrians – the people of Christchurch – most especially its Muslim community.
“We want to ensure New Zealanders of their safety,” she said.
She repeated the message she kept hearing from the survivors of the mosque shootings.
“This is not the New Zealand they know,” she said, they said. “This is not the New Zealand we know.”
“They are us,” she had said of the victims not long after the mass murder.
“Many of those affected will be members of our migrant communities – New Zealand is their home.”
Even when US President Donald Trump, a leader familiar with mass deaths from guns called Ardern and asked what the US could do, she replied with poise: “sympathy and love for all Muslim communities”.
There was no rage at the Australian man, identified as Brenton Tarrant, a personal trainer from the sleepy New South Wales town of Grafton, who is accused of committing these atrocities.
Instead simply: “The person who has committed this violent act has no place here.”
He will appear in the High Court on April 5.
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