Christchurch, New Zealand – Families of the Christchurch mosque attack victims began burying their relatives five days after 50 people were killed in the worst mass shooting in New Zealand’s history.
At least two victims will be laid to rest on Wednesday at the Memorial Park Cemetery, following the release of the bodies from the coroner’s office a day earlier.
Among those being buried were a 15-year-old Syrian refugee Hamza Mustafa and his father, Khalid, 44. They had just arrived in New Zealand six months before they were killed.
Hamza’s younger brother Zaed, 13, suffered gunshot wounds to the leg in the attack. He was seen being pushed around in a wheelchair during the burial ceremony.
“We are all here to pay our respects,” an organiser told a crowd of hundreds gathered at the site of the graves.
The burials come after police earlier named victims of Friday’s attack on the Al Noor and Linwood mosques.
Three-year-old Muccad Ibrahim was among those confirmed killed in the massacre, which Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has branded a “terrorist” attack.
— David Child (@DavidChild90) March 19, 2019
Police said in a statement 27 victims will be identified by midday on Wednesday and would be available to their families.
There’s been growing anguish over a lack of progress by officials tasked with identifying the dead.
Muslims customarily bury the deceased within 24 hours of death. Before their burial, the bodies are washed and wrapped in a white shroud so that funeral prayers can be conducted.
However, authorities say they need to be 100 percent certain in the identification process so the wrong body isn’t returned to a victim’s family, and so evidence can be used in court against the murder suspect.
“It would be unforgivable to return the wrong body to a family,” Police Commissioner Mike Bush said in a statement on Wednesday.
Christchurch attacks force New Zealand to see ‘racist underbelly’
“I want to again reassure you that we are working relentlessly, doing everything in our power, to complete the formal identification processes as quickly as possible.”
Christchurch Hospital said 29 people wounded in the attacks were still receiving medical treatment. Eight remain in critical condition.
A four-year-old girl being treated in the Starship Hospital in Auckland also remains in critical condition, the statement added.
“We are gearing all available theatres to follow-up acute surgery, which means we will be continuing to postpone planned surgeries,” said David Meates, chief executive of Canterbury District Health Board. “People injured in the mosque attacks are still our priority for surgery.”
Australian Brenton Tarrant, a white supremacist, is accused of carrying out the massacre with modified semi-automatic weapons. He will appear in a Christchurch court on April 5.
Bush said on Wednesday police officers rammed his vehicle and apprehended him 21 minutes after the first emergency calls were received. Previously police said it took 36 minutes.
“My husband and my son … were brave people.”
Naeem Rashid and his son were both killed during the New Zealand mosque mass shootings. Al Jazeera spoke to their family. pic.twitter.com/L0jc4pbG3T
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) March 19, 2019