On the afternoon of Friday, Mar. 15, in Christchurch, New Zealand, a town that is over 8,500 miles away from Conway, 50 people lost their lives in two consecutive terrorist mass shootings at two separate mosques, with another 50 people injured. It was the worst mass shooting in New Zealand’s modern history.
The lone gunman was identified as a 28-year-old Australian man and was described in multiple media reports as alt-right affiliated white supremacist. Police recovered five guns at the scene, including two semi-automatic weapons.
According to Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, the shooter had obtained all five firearms legally. There are 300,000 licensed firearms owners that own and use the country’s near 1.5 million firearms. That is five firearms per person in a country that has less people then the state of South Carolina. And yet, despite a large number of firearms, according to New Zealand Police, there were 69 total murders with a firearm between 2008 and 2017.
Leaders across the world responded to the tragedy in Christchurch, including Coastal Carolina University President Dr. David DeCenzo.
“The terrible killings committed at the mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, have shocked the world,” DeCenzo said in a message of sympathy sent out to all Coastal Carolina students and faculty. “The Coastal Carolina University family stands in solidarity with the international community in extending sympathy to this stricken city and in condemning such a monstrous act of terrorism and Islamophobia. Atrocities of this magnitude cause us to reflect on and appreciate the importance of upholding this University’s core values of diversity and inclusion. Our hearts today are especially with our fellow students, faculty and staff members of the Muslim faith.”
Coastal Carolina has nearly 200 international students, represented from 64 different countries. There are 36 different nationalities alone represented in the student-athlete population on campus.
Lauren Dabner is a member of the Coastal Carolina women’s soccer team and is from Christchurch, New Zealand. She talked about how this recent shooting has affected her.
“Initially, there was this really surreal feeling running through me,” said Dabner. “I could not believe what had actually happened. I have always thought of New Zealand as one of the safest places in the world and never imagined that this would ever happen to my country.”
Dabner says that once she came to the realization that this tragedy had happened in her native country, she was overwhelmed with sadness.
“It has definitely instilled a lot of homesickness in me right now,” said Dabner. “New Zealand is a pretty small place but we pride ourselves on being a friendly and welcoming country but also a strong, tightknit one. This event has definitely impacted the whole country and Kiwis around the world.”
Jacob Seeto, a member of the men’s soccer team at CCU, is from Brisbane, Australia. He gave his thoughts as to why this hit home to him, even though the tragedy happened in a neighboring country.
“I think Australians and New Zealanders are similar in lots of ways,” said Seeto. “We are only a three-hour flight away from their capital. Many Australians live in New Zealand and vice versa. I don’t have any family or friends personally involved in the tragedy but I have many family friends who are from New Zealand so it’s sad to see this kind of thing.”
Almost immediately after the shooting in Christchurch happened, Prime Minister Ardern called for gun laws in New Zealand to change. While Seeto has not lived in the United States for long, he does come from a country that after a mass shooting in the mid-1990s, gun laws changed almost instantly.
“Australia’s last mass shooting was in 1996, that being the Port Arthur massacre,” said Seeto. “Instantly after that the government put in measures to prevent this happening again. It forced gun owners to sell back their guns to the government taking, which took over 600,000 long guns from the public more than halving the amount of household gun owners in Australia.”
Seeto is well aware of the history of mass shootings and weighed in on the gun control debate.
“I think it’s sad that these things occur over and over again yet they still haven’t banned guns,” said Seeto. “You don’t have to ban all guns but why are you still allowed to purchase machine guns and that sort of thing when these issues keep occurring over and over again. I just think it’s sad that [the American government] hasn’t done anything about it.”
Another Coastal Carolina student that is well-aware of America’s mass shooting history, having lived in a town where a mass shooting occurred is sophomore Rylee Atteberry from Aurora, Colorado.
Atteberry watched her community come together after a gunman killed 12 people and injured 70 others in a movie theater back in July of 2012. She gave her thoughts of what went through her mind after she heard the news about what happened in New Zealand.
“It never gets easier for me to hear news like that,” said Atteberry. “It’s an all too familiar ache in my heart every time. I’ve recently noticed that I also get angry because people are so desensitized to the fact that people are dying.”
As for how to handle the recent attack in Christchurch, Atteberry offered this message to those who are currently rocked by this tragedy.
“The thing that I can’t stress enough is that you can’t do it alone,” said Atteberry. “You have to come together as a community and be there for each other. It makes dealing with this so much easier but know that it will get better and that you have the support.”
Dabner offered her message to her friends and family back home and to New Zealanders all over the world.
“Look after one another,” said Dabner. “Right now is a time where we need each other more than ever, so check in on your loved ones, neighbors and people you barely even know. We are all hurting and need one another to get through it. He aha te mea nui o te ao. He tangata, he tangata, he tangata. That means ‘what is the most important thing in the world? It is people, it is people, it is people’.”