CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand — The death toll in the massacres at two New Zealand mosques rose to 50 on Sunday after police found another victim while removing bodies from the crime scenes, and authorities announced they do not believe three people who had been arrested were involved in the shootings allegedly carried out by a 28-year-old white supremacist.
Police Commissioner Mike Bush also said that 36 people are still hospitalized and that two of them are in critical condition.
New Zealand’s stricken residents have been reaching out to Muslims in their neighborhoods and around the country, with a fierce determination to show kindness to a community in pain.
The shootings suspect, Brenton Harrison Tarrant, appeared in court Saturday amid strict security, shackled and wearing all-white prison garb, and showed no emotion when the judge read
him one murder charge.
The judge said “it was reasonable to assume” more such charges would follow. Tarrant, who posted an anti-immigrant manifesto online and apparently used a helmet-mounted camera to broadcast live video of the slaughter in the city of Christchurch, appeared to make a hand sign, similar to an OK sign, that is sometimes associated with white nationalists.
The massacre during Friday prayers prompted a heartfelt response from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who pronounced it “one of New Zealand’s darkest days” and said the shooter, an Australian native, had chosen to strike in New Zealand “because we represent diversity, kindness, compassion.”
Her countrymen seemed to want to prove her right by volunteering acts of kindness, offering rides to the grocery store or walking with Muslim neighbors if they felt unsafe.
In online forums, people discussed Muslim food restrictions as they prepared to drop off meals for those affected.
“Love always wins over hate. Lots of love for our Muslim brothers,” read a handwritten card on a wall of flowers in a historic part of the city.
Still, Muslims were advised to stay away from mosques while the nation remained on high alert after the deadliest shooting in New Zealand history.
Outside one of the two mosques, 32-year-old Ash Mohammed pushed through police barricades trying to find out what happened to his father and two brothers. An officer stopped him.
“We just want to know if they are dead or alive,” Mohammed told the officer.
Hungry for any news, families and friends of the victims gathered at the city’s Hagley College, near the hospital.
They included Asif Shaikh, 44, who said he was among more than 100 people at the Al Noor mosque when the attacker came in. He said he survived by playing dead, but was desperate to know what happened to his friends who were there with him.
“It’s been 36 hours, I haven’t heard anything about them,” he said.