Alleged gunman in twin mosque massacres that left 50 dead practiced at gun range where members spoke of zombie apocalypses: Military veteran
The alleged gunman who authorities said killed 50 worshippers and wounded dozens more at two mosques in New Zealand apparently took target practice at a gun range that a military veteran claimed he reported to police after overhearing members speaking of “zombie apocalypses” and “homicidal fantasies.”
Police confirmed Monday that they are investigating Brenton Tarrant’s connection to the Bruce Rifle Club and gun range in Milton, New Zealand, more than 400 miles south of Christchurch, where he allegedly went on a shooting rampage on Friday.
Investigators believe Tarrant took target practice at the club in the days leading up to the attack.
Pete Breidahl, a former New Zealand military machine gunner, posted a video on Facebook in the aftermath of the shootings claiming he asked police in the nearby town of Dunedin to investigate the rifle club based on troubling things he witnessed and overheard.
He said he saw members taking target practice using guns with 30-bullet magazines, talking about “zombie apocalypses, rifles for combat when they’re overweight and … useless” and discussing “homicidal fantasies.”
Breidahl told the New York Times that he reported the club to police in 2017, shortly after visiting the club for the first time. He told the newspaper he was concerned about the mental stability of the club’s members and the way they handled guns.
“They wore cammo around the range, like they were living some military base fantasy,” Breidahl said.
He told The Times that he contacted police following the Christchurch massacre and says he is scheduled to meet with investigators on Tuesday.
“I went there for one shoot and was so … horrified by what I saw. That was it for me,” Breidhal said in his video.
“That … made me concerned enough about the safety of people to go to a … police officer, the arms officer, and say, ‘You’ve got to do something about the Bruce Rifle Club, those people are not … right,” Breidahl said.
Bruce Rifle Club’s vice president Scott Williams would only confirm to the RNZ Radio Network, New Zealand’s public-service radio broadcaster, that Tarrant became a member of the club last year. He said Tarrant never did anything at the club that raised suspicions.
Williams told RNZ Radio that club members were shocked and stunned by the killing rampage and are cooperating with police.
Even as the police continued to probe what authorities called the deadliest terrorist attack in New Zealand history, three people were shot to death on a public tram in the Netherlands Monday in what police said had the hallmarks of a terrorist attack. A manhunt was underway for a suspect or suspects in the attack that occurred about 30 miles southeast of Amsterdam.
Alleged killer’s live stream
Tarrant, an Australian living in New Zealand, allegedly carried out the ambush attacks on Friday afternoon, livestreaming the bloodshed on Facebook as he unleashed a torrent of gunfire inside the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, killing 42 Muslim worshippers and wounding scores of others, police said.
Tarrant — dressed in military tactical gear including a helmet and camouflage gloves — then drove three miles across Christchurch to the Linwood mosque, where he allegedly opened fire, killing another eight people engaged in afternoon prayers, police said.
I can assure you … our gun laws will change
At least 50 people were wounded in the twin attacks. David Meates, chief executive of the Canterbury District Health Board, said Monday that 31 victims remained hospitalized, nine in critical condition, including a 4-year-old girl.
Law enforcement officers swarmed both mosques and captured Tarrant as he attempted to flee the Linwood mosque.
Tarrant has, so far, been charged with one count of murder, but more murder charges are expected to be filed against the 28-year-old suspect, who in online writings, expressed hatred for immigrants and espoused white supremacist views against minorities, authorities said.
Tarrant, who appeared briefly in court on Saturday, has told authorities he plans to represent himself in the case.
New Zealand officials and Facebook workers have worked feverishly to scrub the internet of Tarrant’s alleged livestream video of the attack, 17 minutes of which made it online before it was taken down.
Despite those efforts, the president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, used an edited version of the attack at an election rally on Sunday in an apparent attempt to galvanize support from Islamist followers.
‘The time to act is now’
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday that “our gun laws will change.”
“The time to act is now,” Ardern said at a news conference on Monday before the meeting with her cabinet. “I have some initial proposals for [the] cabinet to discuss today. I don’t want to preempt that discussion but what I can assure you is our gun laws will change.
Gunman acted alone
New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush said police are certain that Tarrant was the only gunman but aren’t ruling out that he had support.
“I would like to state that we believe absolutely there was only one attacker responsible for this,” Bush said at a news conference on Monday. “That doesn’t mean there weren’t possibly other people in support and that continues to form a very, very important part of our investigation.”
Three people arrested shortly after the mass shooting were released once police determined they were not involved, officials said.
Gun store owner speaks out
The alleged killer obtained a New Zealand gun license in November 2017 and bought his first firearm at Gun City in Christchurch in March 2018, the owner of the gun store said during a news conference Monday.
Gun City owner David Tipple said Tarrant purchased four guns from the store but denied selling him a semi-automatic rifle used in the mosque attacks.
“We detected nothing extraordinary about the license holder. The military style semi-auto used by the alleged gunman was not purchased from Gun City,” Tipple said. “All Gun City sales to this individual followed a police verified online mail order process.”
As protesters gathered outside his store condemning the attack, Tipple said that he and his staff “are dismayed and disgusted” by the mass killings at the mosques.
“We can’t comprehend how the despicable actions could take place at a place of prayer and worship,” Tipple said.
Search warrants served in Australia
The investigation of the rampage has spread to Tarrant’s homeland of Australia, more than 2,500 miles from New Zealand. The New South Wales Joint counter-terrorism team in Australia said Monday that they executed search warrants on two homes as part of the New Zealand investigation.
The law enforcement agency said they searched homes believed connected to Tarrant in Sandy Beach and in Lawrence, both near the coast of New South Wales.
“The family of the Australian man arrested in Christchurch continues to assist police with their inquiries,” the joint counter-terrorism team said in a statement. “The community can be assured that there is no information to suggest a current or impending threat related to this search warrants.”
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ardern said authorities hope to release all of the murdered victims to their loved ones by Wednesday. Ardern said the New Zealand government will cover the costs of the funerals.
“Everyone is grieving and I’m grieving with them, but I also have a very important job to do,” Ardern said. “I need to ensure that we are looking after those affected, that they have ongoing care and support not just in the coming days but the coming months and years. So that’s why I’m incredibly focused. I have a job to do.”
Thirty-two people remain in hospitals after the attack, with 10 in critical condition, The Associated Press reported.