By the light of 51 candles, people from Clutha District gathered at the Balclutha War Memorial Hall on Thursday night in remembrance of an event that has changed New Zealand forever.
Fifty candles were lit for the Muslims who died in the Christchurch mosque shootings on March 15, and one for their brother South Otago’s Mohamed Elmi, who was killed in a car crash returning from the scene of terror where his uncle and close friend were shot dead by a gunman.
MC and minister Alex McLaughlin said people had gathered because they cared.
Clutha mayor Bryan Cadogan said people were continuing to gather in vigils and remembrance services because they were still shocked, hurt and angry about what happened.
Similar services had been called off in Southland because police resources were stretched to provide security. The Balclutha service was able to proceed, with an armed policeman on point duty outside the hall.
This was the New Zealand that we now had to get used to, Area Commander Otago Coastal Police Inspector Matenga Gray said.
He said police were witnessing peoples’ struggle to get back to normal “whatever that may look like”.
He said all New Zealanders should draw comfort from the silver lining produced from the black cloud that descended over our land two weeks ago; gun laws had tightened and the gunman had failed.
He sought to divide us, but instead we had united in our grief and horror at what unfolded for our Muslim community.
“Let’s stay strong … it’s been powerful to see us drawn together.”
New Zealand First MP Mark Paterson said it had been a double tragedy for Clutha to have also lost Elmi, a 49-year-old halal meatworker at Silver Fern Farms at Finegand, who died in a car crash on the Hampden-Palmerson road on the Wednesday following the attacks.
His thoughts were echoed by Finegand plant manager Silvio Tenci who said it had been too much to bear, but despite the tragedy, his co-workers had wanted to keep going, to keep working, even though it proved impossible and the plant had to close temporarily.
Former National cabinet minister Michael Woodhouse, who was standing in for Clutha-Southland MP Hamish Walker, said he felt Elmi was indeed the 51st victim of the attack, which also injured 50 others.
Abdi Asman Korir, the halal workers supervisor at the plant, thanked the community for the support and providing an outlet for their grief.
The remembrance ended with Minister McLaughlin calling for peace and safety to return to New Zealand.