CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND: The irony of a homicidal zealot travelling to new land in order to “remove invaders” from its shores was scornfully highlighted by locally born testifiers at the sentencing hearing of Brenton Harrison Tarrant.
The second full day of victim-impact statements here in New Zealand’s second-largest city started out not unlike the morning of March 15, 2019, all sky-blue skies and a sun hanging like a lemon above the rolling parklands that serve as the visual centrepiece of the Garden City.
Such would have been the decorous scene that greeted the Australian-born Tarrant that Friday morning 17 months ago when he drove into town in a Subaru bristling with the weaponry and high-tech gadgets he had accumulated for the purpose of killing as many Muslims as he could at the Linwood Islamic Centre and Al Noor Mosque.
The 29-year-old has pleaded guilty to 51 charges of murder, 40 of attempted murder and one charge of engaging in a terrorist act in relation to the massacre that he livestreamed on Facebook.
Police officers walk Brenton Tarrant into the Christchurch courtroom (AFP)
According to the summary of facts presented at the High Court in Christchurch the previous day by Crown prosecutor Barnaby Hawes, the self-confessed white supremacist first came to the country in 2017.
He had arrived determined to reduce New Zealand-bound immigration trends “by intimidating and physically removing” non-Caucasians from the demographic mix.
Survivors and relatives of those killed on that fateful day have told the court of the anxiety and sleepless nights they continue to suffer – others have spoken of the financial hardships imposed through the loss of a main bread winner.
Among those who perished at his hand was Linda Armstrong, 64, a third-generation New Zealander who converted to Islam in 2011.
The late Ms. Armstrong later said her conversion had been spurred by a decade-long friendship she had forged with a Syrian refugee — and an acquired enthusiasm for the Levantine cuisines.
In a jarring address, the deceased woman’s nephew, Kyron Gosse, described the defendant as a “loser” who brutally betrayed his status as a guest in the country.
Survivors and bereaved give their accounts of their experience and loss at the hands of Tarrant (AFP)
"He entered into our home with ill intentions and hate in his heart only to repay our hospitality by murdering our family and our guests, people we welcome into our country with the promise of a better life," the t-shirt clad Gosse, a seventh-generation New Zealander himself, told the court.
He also spoke of his horror at first learning about the carnage after logging on to Facebook and seeing the live stream of Tarrant slaughtering worshippers.
The late Armstrong’s daughter, Angela, an only child, struck a similar blistering note — and a possibly baffling note for the defendant, too, by prefacing her tearful comments with a lyrical introduction offered in Maori, the native vernacular of New Zealand.
“You are nothing,” Armstrong added, looking at the defendant seated with hand on chin while surrounded by officers.
Another local Muslim convert, Rosemary Omar, emphasized her deep family roots in the land here in the South Seas that welcomed the man she also described as a “monster.”
Turkish victim recalls how he and Tarrant looked at each other before he was shot multiple times (AFP)
The court has allowed time for around 70 victim impact statements, including a number not originally scheduled to be delivered. Among the other addresses were ones given by speakers from Britain, Fiji, the Indian subcontinent, South Africa, Syria, and the United States.
Tarrant faces the possibility of life in prison without the chance of parole.
If Tarrant is given an opportunity to address the court, it is expected to happen on Wednesday.
Justice Cameron Mander has said he will not pass judgment until this Thursday morning at the earliest. The hearing continues.