RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Governor Ralph Northam condemned the horrific violence that unfolded in two New Zealand mosques where at least 49 people were killed while attending Friday prayers.
New Zealand authorities said one man was arrested and charged with murder and two other armed suspects were taken into custody while police tried to determine what role they played. Police also defused explosive devices in a car.
“Our hearts break for the families and loved ones of those killed in the devastating mosque attacks in Christchurch,” Northam posted to his social media pages. “The Commonwealth of Virginia stands in solidarity with the Muslim community here and around the world…”
In memory of the victims, a special prayer service will be held at the Islamic Center of Henrico (7705 Impala Drive) Friday at 7 p.m. It’s being held in collaboration with the Islamic Center of Virginia, Muslim Community Center, Islamic Center of Richmond and West End Islamic Center.
"It's heartbreaking,” said Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy board member Qasim Rashid. “The Jum'ah prayer, the Friday prayer is the holiest point of the week for Muslims... To have such a sacred time, sacred place destroyed by this extremist is absolutely devastating."
Rashid is an American-Muslim who lives in Virginia fighting for justice in the state.
He said since the tragedy struck in New Zealand, he’s gotten hundreds of emails from people and politicians on both sides of the aisle showing support for the Muslim community.
“For me that’s not only reassuring but it’s a promise of what America is supposed to be,” Rashid said. “People can recognize that we can have differences of opinion, but we have to remain peaceful and respectful and we can stand united against extremism.”
“I think it’s shocking for Kiwis all over the world because we’re not a violent country at all,” said Raiha Howard, a New Zealand native who now lives in Henrico. “We don't have guns like the police carry in most countries. So, it's a huge deal for us."
But Rashid feels this attack can happen anywhere in the world.
"New Zealand is such a peaceful country but for me this is not surprising because the scourge of white supremacy and terrorism has taken over the world in many respects," he said.
Howard found out about the attacks via text from her daughter who lives in New Zealand with her husband.
“She said there were shootings in Christchurch,” Howard said. “It’s pretty mind boggling.”
Howard’s home is filled with memories from her homeland. She still can’t comprehend a violent act like this happening in the country she grew up in.
“This is one of New Zealand's darkest days," said New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Howard fears many of the victims in these shootings may have been immigrants seeking a better life.
“[They’ve] come because we are a safe country and now it’s been taken away from them, and us."
“They have chosen to make New Zealand their home, and it is their home,” Ardern added. “They are us.”
"Muslims are your neighbors, they are doctors, they are kid's teachers,” Rashid said. “We love this nation, we love life as much as you do. We want to find ways to work together, to work for one another and with one another."
While authorities work to identify the victims, the next step will be on how to move forward from this tragedy.
“As devastating as this is, and it will hurt for a long time, I remain the optimist that we will learn from this, we will grow stronger and hopefully we will build more bridges and break down some walls,” Rashid said.
“Kia kaha!” Howard said. “That’s all we as Kiwis can do. We do just push through. We band together.”
A spokeswoman for the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities released a statement reading:
“Our minds and hearts are with those who lost their lives and their loved ones due to hate-motivated violence yesterday.”
Before Friday’s attack, New Zealand’s deadliest shooting in modern history took place in 1990 in the small town of Aramoana, where a gunman killed 13 people following a dispute with a neighbor.
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