A survivor of the Christchurch mosque shootings recounted how he continued to pray after first hearing gunshots outside the Linwood Avenue mosque.
The shootings at two nearby mosques — Linwood Avenue and Al Noor — in Christchurch, New Zealand, left 49 people dead during Friday prayers. At Linwood Avenue, seven people were killed.
Mazharuddin Syed Ahmed, 47, said he immediately recognized it was gunshots directly outside the mosque because of the loud noise, which was accompanied by screams.
“We kept praying for the first two or three shots,” Syed Ahmed, who was in the front row of the mosque, told BuzzFeed News on Saturday morning. “Then suddenly he came towards the main door. People started screaming and everybody got out of the prayer.”
Syed Ahmed said the main door is located in the center of the mosque, which is just a small, two-bedroom house. He said the shooter stood at the door and shot from there.
In front of the door were “old ladies and men sitting on the chairs praying, so they were the first to get hit,” he said.
Syed Ahmed, a father of two, said he ran to a small storeroom in the mosque, and lay on the ground to hide.
Two of his close friends were shot. “One was right behind me. He died instantly — he was shot on his head,” said Syed Ahmed.
“The other was bleeding and I tried to give first aid,” he said. “I couldn’t trace where he was hit. I kept saying, ‘Where’s the bullet? Where’s the injury?’ He said, ‘Call an ambulance, I’m bleeding.'”
Syed Ahmed tried to call the police. He then heard authorities outside and went to get help, walking past dead and injured worshippers. “A lot of bodies I had to cross,” he said.
Police didn’t allow him back inside the mosque, and he only learned early Saturday morning that his injured friend was alive but in a critical condition.
Syed Ahmed teaches architecture at the Ara Institute of Canterbury in downtown Christchurch, right in the center of the two mosques.
“I go to both, this week to Linwood,” he said. He said both mosques are a social and spiritual hub for the small New Zealand Muslim community, full of families and people of all ages praying, eating, and socializing.
Women regularly brought food to sell to raise money for causes, the latest being a fundraiser for the recent Nelson forest fires.
Late Friday night after the shootings he watched the video livestreamed by the shooter — without audio — to see if he could recognize anyone at the Al Noor mosque. He recognized the gun, with distinctive markings, as being similar to the one used by the shooter at Linwood Ave.
“I was just trying to look at the injuries of my friends. It’s a small community, everybody knows everybody,” he said, adding he’d been unable to properly make out friends onscreen. He said he knew at least one victim, a man who’d recently migrated from Syria with his family, and was desperately seeking news of others.
Syed Ahmed moved to Christchurch from India six years ago and was absolutely shocked that an anti-Muslim mass shooting could happen in the quiet city.
“It is the most peaceful place on earth,” he said. “People are amazing and very kind and inclusive. This is absolutely unheard of — this city, this county is so nice.”
Syed Ahmed said he is aware of the white nationalist manifesto the shooter published online, and he called on people to unite against hatred.
“If you see any hate or discrimination or prejudice, you need to take some action, you need to stop it, you need to share it,” he said.
“This might inflate at any moment and become a beast — a small sentence could create a big impact in somebody’s brain.”
“If it has come here, that means it is creeping everywhere,” he added.