On March 15, 2019, people across the globe logged onto Facebook, eventually stumbling upon a live stream from an active shooter in Christchurch, New Zealand. According to the Associated Press, the 29–year–old Australian man traveled to two mosques, opening fire while people watched on social media. The attacks left 51 dead and 49 dead, resulting in charges of murder, attempted murder, and terrorism.
Despite the shooter posting both his livestream of the attack and his manifesto attempting to justify it online, the case was dragged on for more than one year without any conviction. The trial, originally scheduled for May 4, 2020, was delayed by the High Court of New Zealand to June 2, 2020 to avoid conflict with Ramadan in consideration of the Muslim witnesses testifying, Aljazeera reported.
The perpetrator, characterized by Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison as an “extremist, right-wing, violent terrorist,” attempted to further alter the trial by requesting a change in trial location. While the trial was planned to take place in Christchurch, the city in which the atrocity was committed in, the defendant requested it be held in Auckland, a city 475 miles north of Christchurch, according to The New York Times. The request was withdrawn at a preliminary hearing in October, but survivors were then dismayed by the behavior of the perpetrator. Aljazeera describes how the shooter -who appeared in court through video conferencing- looked remorseless, smirking and winking throughout the hearing.
However, on March 19, 2020, the shooter digitally appeared in court again with a limited audience due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to The Guardian. In a surprising change of circumstances, the former gym instructor pleaded guilty on every account. The June 2 trial has been canceled in light of this change, bringing relief to families of the victims and witnesses who no longer must relive through their trauma.
In an interview with The Guardian, Maysoon Salama, mother of one of the deceased, described both her shock and relief. “The news is fresh and it’s unbelievable, really,” said Salama. Other family members and victims discussed that they were not even aware of the hearing until they heard of the guilty plea. Salama furthered that she was unsure whether or not to believe the play, as the gunman has consistently treated the justice system “like a game.”
Even with his guilty plea, the actions of the Christchurch shooter on March 15, 2019 have fundamentally changed New Zealand. A month after the shooting occurred, New Zealand’s parliament voted in a 119 to 1 decision to ban semi-automatic weapons, according to CNN. Beyond legislation, Times describes how within the past year the non-Muslim population in New Zealand has made an extra effort to reach out to and engage the Muslim community, bringing the nation together.
Even though Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern canceled a memorial for victims of the shooting due to fears of COVID-19, dozens flocked to the Al–Noor mosque anyway. People from a variety of cultures and faiths were welcomed into the mosque on March 15 to pay their respects at one site of the shooting. While the shooter wanted to pit different cultures against one another, New Zealand forges forward, more united than before.