Irish in Christchurch: ‘We saw gun cases and boxes that had been discarded by the gunman’
Irish woman describes the ‘hardest and most frightening day for all of us’
Armed police patrol outside a mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand on Friday. Photograph: Mark Baker/AP
At 1.40pm Pat Kenny was working in his Christchurch office when he heard a rapid clack, clack clack of what he assumed was a metal shutter being raised with a chain at one of the many commercial premises nearby. By 2pm he realised the sounds he had heard were infinitely more sinister.
His construction office sits just behind the city centre mosque where the first of two gun attacks which have left at least 49 people dead took place but it took 20 minutes before staff in his building learned of the horror that had unfolded metres away from where they worked
“I heard the gunfire but it it sounded like a metal roller door being pulled up. A lot of the commercial buildings around here have metal shutters so I thought nothing of it. It was only when some of the girls working in an office upstairs came down and said they had heard on the news what was going on that we realised what was happening.”
He and some colleagues walked around to the back of their office building and just five metres from their building “we saw gun cases and boxes that had been discarded by the gunman. There was a soft case for a rifle and a hard case for a rifle and a brand-new box that had contained a gun. They were just lying there by a car,” he said.
“The guards came and we were sent back to our office and told to stay there. We were allowed to leave at around 4pm,” he said.
Speaking to The Irish Times from his Christchurch home, he said today was the seventh anniversary of his arrival in the city. “This is a very welcoming place,” he said. “ I’m from Dublin, which is a large city, and by comparison this is small and very easy going and very safe.”
He has two children aged 10 and 12 and they were locked in their school as the horror unfolded.
“The schools were shut down as soon as the incident happened and we couldn’t take our kids out, they were shocked as they didn’t know what was happening but they’re okay now,” he said. “Kids are kids and they just get on with things. We are going to have to sit down and tell them that there are horrible people out there and there are scumbags. We can’t wrap them in cotton wool.”
Mags O’Connor’s three-year-old was in daycare when the attacks happened and she and her husband had to wait nearly four hours before they could collect her. “It was the hardest and most frightening day for all of us,” she said.
“Only a short 10-minute drive from our home this all went on,” she told The Irish Times. “New Zealand has never felt like a threatening place to us in the near seven years we have lived here,” she said adding that her “heart is broken for all the families who lost loved ones.”
She said she would be going to bed tonight “thinking and praying for those families and the people who died today.”
Michael Campbell was born and raised in Belfast and emigrated to New Zealand in 1993 and he said he never thought he “would see terrorism again like we did in Belfast. But today we did and everyone here is in shock but also determined not to let the terrorists affect us. “
He said New Zealand would not let it change its immigration laws. “Everyone is welcome here. As our prime minister said we have around 200 cultures and over 150 languages. This is not us and the perpetrators are not welcome. We are Muslim just as much as we are any other ethnicity.”
Mark Nagle, originally from Mullingar, has been in Christchurch for three years and lives close one of the mosques which was targeted.
He works in central Christchurch and his office “was put into lockdown from about 2pm and we didn’t get to leave until 6. We were allowed to leave but it was strongly discouraged so out of maybe 300 or 400 staff most people remained indoors,” he said.
He said a close friend and colleague of his knew someone who was in the Mosque at Hagley park “and they only survived because they hid under bodies”.
He described his office as “very multicultural so we were all very worried and frightened as the events unfolded. We tried to carry on and be as professional as possible but most of us had to hold back tears as we worked.”
He said that even after the lockdown was lifted “nobody really felt safe. Some of us left together in groups and we were all eager to make sure everybody got home safely. The traffic was at a standstill during the evening with people trying to get out of the city and get to their loved ones.”
He said most people in the city are still in shock. “Nobody could have predicted this. Some of the images been shared around on social media have caused us all a lot of distress.”
He said that while he just got his residence Visa he is “strongly thinking of heading back to Ireland now”.
Former Ireland rugby star Ronan O’Gara, now a coach for Crusaders in Christchurch, said everyone is “shook” by the attack.
“It is obviously very raw at the moment. People are just keeping to themselves,” he said.
Mr O’Gara said Christchurch is “very similar to any Irish town, but a lot quieter potentially. I think for this to happen on the streets makes it all the more incomprehensible”.
He told Newstalk that his mother and father, who are visiting, were looking after his youngest son while his wife Jess went to collect the other four children from school.
There was an hours-long lock down at the school and she had to stay there in the staff room for some time. “Thankfully everyone is safe.”
Mr O’Gara said he thought he was getting away from terrorist threats when he left Paris. “Of all the cities in the world . . . this out of the blue. Everyone is shook. When you live there it becomes your home. It has been a very surreal day.”