Dozens of people died in a pair of mass shootings in New Zealand mosques on Friday — including one shooting where a gunman live-streamed himself firing into a worship area containing 500 people, media reports said.
The shootings were reported at two mosques in and near Christchurch, a city of 375,000 people on New Zealand’s south island.
A New Zealand newspaper put the death toll at 27, while other reports said the dead number in the dozens. New Zealand Police said only that a “significant number” of people were dead.
Three men and a woman were arrested, said police. Officers also found several vehicles with bombs attached to them.
“This is one of New Zealand’s darkest days,” said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. She called the shootings “an extreme and unprecedented act of violence.”
In a tweet, New Zealand police asked “all mosques nationally to shut their doors, and advise that people refrain from visiting these premises until further notice.”
Schools and government buildings were put on lockdown, and a square full of children rallying about climate change in the center of the city was cleared.
One man told the New Zealand news site Stuff that he had been praying in one of the mosques when he heard shooting. He escaped only to see his wife lying dead on a footpath outside, he told the site.
Another man told Stuff he’d seen children among the victims. The shooter was described as a “man wearing military uniform, who emptied at least two magazines,” Stuff said.
“There were bodies all over me,” the witness said.
Witnesses said they saw dozens of people shot, and a nearby resident said she had heard “hundreds” of shots, Stuff said.
Police were urging everyone in central Christchurch to stay indoors while they sought the gunman, who had fled.
The carnage began unfolding at around 1:45 p.m. as dozens of people prayed at the Masjid Al Noor mosque in central Christchurch, a witness told the Associated Press.
Len Peneha, who lives next door to the mosque, said he saw a man clad in black go inside — and then heard dozens of shots and saw people running away in terror.
He then went into the mosque to try to help. “I saw dead people everywhere. There were three in the hallway, at the door leading into the mosque, and people inside the mosque,” he said.
The gunman at the Masjid Al Noor mosque livestreamed his crime. He fired indiscriminately as he moved from one room to another in the crowded building, the New Zealand Herald reported.
He stopped several times to reload, the newspaper said.
A witness told the Herald that the man had magazines strapped to his legs.
Among those who escaped were reportedly the Bangladesh cricket team, whose members had been at the mosque.
“Bangladesh team escaped from a mosque near Hagley Park where there were active shooters,” tweeted journalist Mohammad Isam.