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One year later: BYUH students and alumni reflect on the Christchurch shooting

An illustration of six people holding hands with the New Zealand flag in the background.

One year after the mosque shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand on March 15, 2019, BYUH students and alumni shared their experiences in the aftermath of the shooting. Each individual talked about the impact and healing that took place in New Zealand over the last year. They said while people aren't talking about it as much as they were right after it happened, the tragedy will be remembered along with the unity they saw and felt as people united together to recover from it.

Tyrell Gemmell, an alumnus from New Zealand who graduated in psychology, commented on what he remembers from the day the shooting occurred.

“On the day of the shooting, I went into town with a friend to go and pick something up. I remember coming back to campus just in time for my personality psych class and then getting ready to leave my hale when I saw a post on Facebook about Christchurch ... I couldn’t believe what I was reading, that something which seemed so out of the ordinary had happened in New Zealand.”

Sabrina McQueen, a senior from New Zealand majoring in psychology, shared how she feels New Zealand has healed as a country since the shooting in Christchurch. “Of course, the individual families that were affected are probably still adjusting and getting settled again.

“But being in New Zealand now and in Christchurch, I don’t hear any talk about it, so I think that is a sign that people have moved on from the tragedy.”

Irene Tawa, a freshman from New Zealand double majoring in hospitality and tourism management and Pacific Island studies, commented on how she feels this event will be remembered in the future.

“I think this will be remembered, similar to the many natural disasters that have happened in New Zealand. However, this is a little different, unfortunately, because it is something that most people don’t want to remember, especially those that were affected by it in Christchurch.”

McQueen discussed ways she has seen New Zealand heal from the shooting over the last year. She commented, “I have seen signs that they have healed or have tried to make things right because of the immediate help and physical and emotional support offered to the Muslim community. Talk of the event has become very quiet, so it isn’t people’s biggest concern anymore.”

Gemmell went on to share his personal experience from the day of the shooting. He commented, “I felt especially sorry for one of my best friends because his home was only a few blocks away from the mosque, and he could hear shots fired.

“I remember reaching out to the New Zealand students at BYUH on our group chat and asking if everyone would like to fast and pray for Christchurch, and the response was overwhelming.”

McQueen shared how she has seen New Zealand respond to this event over the last year. “Because it was such a big and unexpected event gives it precedence in our memories, I think that everybody knows of at least someone that was affected by it. It seemed to me as though people pulled together rather than pushed each other away.”

Gemmell shared the efforts that have been made since the event. He commented, “New gun laws were put in place, and regardless of one’s views on [gun laws], we can agree that acting quickly and being decisive is better than taking a long time to try and decide what to do.

“Our leaders acted quickly and showed the nation that they were willing to protect the citizens. Our prime minister reached out to the Muslim community, and our national saying about the tragedy is, “This is not us.” I admire how our leaders found a way to accommodate these people affected without compromising our own national identity.”

Tawa shared her thoughts on if she has seen any healing take place in New Zealand over the last year. She commented, “In a way, I think we have healed, and in a way, I think we have not. I believe this is the first shooting to happen to our country that has made an impact on who we are as a country.”

Gemmell commented on how this event could be remembered for years to come. “I think that because we have taken precautions to try and make sure nothing like this ever happens again shows the resilience and decisiveness of New Zealand.

“No one should have to be afraid to worship, no one should live in a state of fear, and I think the nation has done its best to make sure that these people can live without fear.

“I am reminded of the whakatauki [proverb] in Māori, which reads, ‘He aha Te mea nui o te ao? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata.’ In translation, ‘What is the most important thing in the world? It is people, it is people, it is people.’”