Death toll rises to 50 in New Zealand terror attack

U.S. & World News
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Ian Britton walks into a gun shop in Christchurch, New Zealand, Sunday, March 17, 2019. Gun ownership in New Zealand is being discussed after a mass shooting at two area mosques. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

(ABC News) — The death toll from the largest terror attack in New Zealand’s history has now risen to 50, police said.

For those who survived the mass shooting, 34 are still hospitalized including 12 patients in the intensive care unit and are in critical condition, said Christchurch Hospital head of Surgery Greg Robertson at a news conference on Sunday afternoon local time.

Two children, who under the age of 16, are among the victims in stable condition, and two adults are still in critical condition.

On Thursday morning, a gunman, who had posted white supremacist language on social media attacked two mosques in Christchurch in a shooting spree he livestreamed on Facebook.

Authorities have named Brenton Harrison Tarrant, a 28-year-old Australian citizen, as the shooter. He was charged with murder and appeared in Christchurch District Court on Saturday and remanded back into custody without entering a plea. He may face more charges.

His next court appearance will be on April 5.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said at a Sunday night press conference that the suspect sent a copy of his white supremacist writings to the prime minister’s office nine minutes before beginning the attack. While it was immediately sent to parliamentary security, it did not indicate he would attack local mosques, Ardern said.

Three other people, who have been taken into custody, were deemed unrelated to the attack, Bush said.

Two others were stopped because they had a firearm, Bush said.

“A woman was released without charge. A man in that vehicle was charged with a firearms offense. We do not believe they were involved in these attacks,” Bush said.

Another 18-year-old man who “went to assist children and did decide to arm themselves which is not the right approach” will appear in court on Monday, Bush said, adding that the charge was “tangential to this matter” and that police “do not believe he was involved in this attack.”

“A list of victims’ names have been shared with family,” Bush said. The list was not formalized yet and would not yet be distributed.

Ardern said the bodies of some of the victims were being released to families Sunday night.

Security around mosques “will continue until we believe there is no threat,” said Bush, adding, that law enforcement around the country would stay on high alert to protect citizens and visitors.

Tarrant had a New Zealand firearms license he obtained in 2017, and appeared to have modified the gun he used, Bush said.

On Saturday, Ardern again disavowed the attacks and anti-Muslim sentiment, while promising a change to the country’s gun laws.

“This is not the New Zealand that any of us know,” she told reporters at a press conference. “The commissioner has advised that security from police will continue at mosques throughout New Zealand until it is deemed that there is no longer a threat.”

Ardern said the Cabinet will convene on Monday to discuss gun policy changes.

She also added to the timeline of the attacks, saying that the police “responded immediately” to the attack, saying Tarrant “was in custody 36 minutes from receiving the first call. The offender was mobile. There were two other firearms in the vehicle that the offender was in and it absolutely was his intention to continue with his attack.”

Ardern also said the weapons used in the attack “appear to have been modified,” a challenge that the government will “look to address in changing our laws.”

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