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Ms Ardern was in the South Island city today with Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, National leader Simon Bridges and mayor Lianne Dalziel as the nation reels over the worst terror attack in the country's history.
Up to 90 people were also injured in the attacks at the Al Noor Mosque on Deans Ave in Riccarton and one in Linwood during Friday prayers. Some 39 remained in hospital today, including 11 in intensive care.
Speaking at the Justice Precinct in the centre of the city this afternoon, Ardern said it was clear that "young children had been caught up in this horrific attack" and that bodies of some of the victims were still in the mosques where they died.
She said all the bodies should be removed by the end of the day.
Ardern - who was also visiting Christchurch Hospital - said trauma teams in all regions were ready to mobilise and a "complex and comprehensive investigation" had begun.
Three people have been taken into custody over the attacks. They include 28-year-old Brenton HarrisonTarrant, an Australian who appeared the Christchurch District Court this morning charged with murder.
Tarrant, whose address was given as Andersons Bay in Dunedin, smirked when media photographed him in the dock, flanked by two officers.
The 28-year-old was remanded to the High Court to reappear on April 5. Name suppression was denied by Judge Paul Kellar but there are restrictions on publishing photos of the accused.
Tarrant is believed to have travelled to Pakistan in the past year, and Bulgarian officials are investigating his recent trip to eastern Europe four months ago. He is also reported to have visited France, Spain and Portugal.
Police said further charges would be laid. None of those in custody were on security watchlists in New Zealand or Australia.
Here to bury the dead
Builder Mohammed Samil said he made the trip to help dispose of bodies as quickly as possible, as is Islamic custom, despite not knowing anyone involved.
Mr Shamil said he had visited the Family Information Centre near Christchurch hospital and the anxious crowd had been driven to tears during a speech by Jacinda Ardern
“It’s just the humanity of it."
POLICE: 36 MINUTES TO CATCH SUSPECT
Thirty-six minutes after the first emergency call came in, police had the alleged shooter behind the deadly attacks in custody, the Police Commissioner has confirmed.
Mike Bush was giving an update during a multi-agency media conference this afternoon.
Police were not searching for anyone that is an immediate threat after mosques were attacked in central Christchurch, "but that doesn't mean that doesn't exist", Bush said,
"I have no intelligence about current imminent threats, but I would never assume anything in this situation, which is why it is so important that we resource the intelligence and investigations phase of this, to make sure we understand everything and understand it urgently."
He said police took 36 minutes from the time a call was received yesterday to have the offender in custody.
"We were also on scene at the mosques way earlier than that. That was the time from the initial incident until we had the offender in custody."
Bush said he was "very happy" to hear Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's comments this morning that there will be a change in the gun law.
He also spoke of the close relationship between the Australian and New Zealand intelligence agencies.
"Our people are working very closely, as is the intelligence agencies. At this stage... this person was not known to us... was not a person of interest to either jurisdiction".
The vehicle that the offender was in contained a device that caused concerns and the Defence Force was used to render this safe, he said.
"This is a very wide-reaching investigation, we are speaking to a considerable amount of people."
Bush said the top priorities for police included public safety in Christchurch and nationally; making sure the victims "get every piece of support they need to get them through this time"; that the responders involved in the events got support and that intelligence is gathered.
He acknowledged the leaders from all of the agencies involved, including Canterbury District Commander Superintendent John Price, who has led the local response.
"I also want to acknowledge St John, Fire and Emergency New Zealand, Civil Defence, NZDF, Victim Support, Christchurch City Council and the other agencies working so closely together."
Price said he wanted to "reassure the community that we have heroes that come to work every day to keep them safe."
Earlier, Christchurch City Councillor Deon Swiggs spoke on behalf of Dalziel, saying the focus for the city was on victim support.
"We are working with those families and those victims to make sure they have the right support."
People wishing to lay flowers could do so outside the Botanic Garderns, he said.
A Civil Defence centre had been set up at Hagley Park to support families and police.
Deborah Strokes, of Victim Support, said the organisation has been working hard to put in place robust support systems that will start to be implemented from tomorrow.
Earlier story: NATION MOURNS
The nation is in mourning after the deadly massacre - a day which Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern described as a "terrorist act" and "one of New Zealand's darkest days".
Dozens more police were being deployed to Christchurch and there is a heightened police presence around the country, including at mosques and community events.
Ardern confirmed this morning after a briefing with officials that death toll stood at 49.
None of the three people taken into custody yesterday had a criminal history here, or in Australia, she said.
A fourth person arrested was a member of the public who had a firearm and was wanting to help police. Work was under way to confirm their identity.
About 20 people remained in a serious condition at Christchurch Hospital.
Canterbury District Health Board head David Meates said 90 people turned up with gunshot wounds at Christchurch Hospital and two community locations yesterday.
About 12 were still in ICU, another seven were in the special surgical care area and one was in the orthopaedic trauma unit.
Meates said the remaining patients were in a range of different units and wards at Christchurch Hospital.
He said it was unclear whether there will be further deaths, but there were some very complex cases
Otago Daily Times reporter George Block is in Christchurch and said apart from police and media, hardly anyone could be seen on the streets earlier today. Usually busy sports grounds were empty, as residents choose to stay home and in some cases lock their gates.
An armed officer at the cordon around the Linwood mosque said people were still laying flowers at the edge of the cordon until 4.30am.
Omar Nabi, whose father was shot at the Deans Ave mosque yesterday, has visited court and expressed his displeasure he cannot bury his father because the body has not been released.
He described the killing as a "cowardly act".
His father, 71, was a refugee from Afghanistan and a senior member of the local Islamic community.
"I need closure on this," Nabi said.
"It’s outrageous to me. This isn't a good feeling man. Forty-nine people got killed - kids and grown ups shot in the back while praying. It is a cowardly act."
Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel said graves were being dug for the dozens of worshippers killed. City officials were working closely with the community on the specific requirements of a large number of Muslim funerals.
Meanwhile, friends and families gathered anxiously at a makeshift Family Support Centre near Hagley Park.
A man, who asked to remain anonymous, said he still had no news of his friend, who was in the Deans Ave mosque when the gunfire erupted.
His friend’s name was absent a list of those identified inside the centre and he was deeply concerned, he told the Otago Daily Times.
A Christchurch man who delivered flowers to the Deans Ave mosque this morning told the ODT he did it as an apology on behalf of New Zealanders.
Aaron Nash (46) echoed the words of deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters in saying "It's a sad day for New Zealand, we've lost our innocence".
Asked if he had a message to convey to the city's Islamic community, his message was clear: "We're just really sorry".
Richard Forsey, who lives in a house now at the edge of a cordon on Linwood Ave, was returning this morning after spending the night at his partners house.
He described the terrifying immediate aftermath of the shooting, when he saw armed police sprinting down the street, urging residents to remain inside.
However, he said he was saddened but unsurprised terrorism had come to his city.
“It was only a matter of time.”
He and other neighbours said the mosque had not been in the street for long, and many were unaware it was even there.
WARNING TO STAY AWAY FROM MOSQUES
Commissioner Bush said officers had disarmed two improvised explosive devices found in a vehicle used by those believed to be behind the atrocity which has sent shockwaves through New Zealand and the Muslim community around the world.
"As the Prime Minister has stated, this has been designated a terrorist attack. This has been an abhorrent event and my thoughts are with all of those affected in Christchurch".
Bush said 41 people had been killed at the Masjid Al Noor in Deans Ave and a further seven at the Linwood mosque and urged people not to travel to mosques "anywhere in New Zealand".
Two of the injured are critical and this included a four-year-old child who was transported to Starship Hospital in Auckland this morning.
In a statement , police said investigations were in their early stages and they would be looking closely to build a picture of any of the individuals involved and all of their activities prior to this "horrific" event.
"There is no guarantee the risk is limited to Canterbury and we need all New Zealanders to be extra vigilant. Our message to you is simple: if you see something suspicious, say something 1 call 111 immediately."
Police said they are aware there are distressing materials related to this event circulating widely online and urged anyone who has been affected by seeing these materials to seek appropriate support.
"We would also like to remind the public that it is an offence to distribute an objectionable publication and that is punishable by imprisonment."
DARK DAY FOR NZ: PM
The magnitude of the tragedy was evident when an emotional Ardern fronted a press conference yesterday, saying it was "one of New Zealand's darkest days".
"There is no place in New Zealand for such acts of extreme and unprecedented violence which, it is clear, this act was," she said.
"My thoughts and, I'm sure, the thoughts of all New Zealanders, are with those who have been affected and also with their families."
Ardern said the shooting was "an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence", saying some of the many of those who had been "directly affected" by the shooting would be migrants to New Zealand.
"They have chosen to make New Zealand their home, and it is their home," Ardern said.
"They are us. The person who has perpetuated this violence against us is not. They have no place in New Zealand. This can only be described as a terrorist act," she said.
The Queen has sent a message of condolence to New Zealanders: "I have been deeply saddened by the appalling events in Christchurch today. Prince Philip and I send our condolences to the families and friends of those who have lost their lives.
"I also pay tribute to the emergency services and volunteers who are providing support to those who have been injured.
"At this tragic time, my thoughts and prayers are with all New Zealanders."
Messages of support have begun pouring in from around New Zealand and the world.
- Reporting by George Block and NZME