Anguished relatives anxiously waited Sunday for authorities to release the remains of those who were killed in massacres at two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch, while police announced the death toll from the racist attacks had risen to 50. Islamic law calls for bodies to be cleansed and buried as soon as possible after death, usually within 24 hours. But two days after the worst terrorist attack in the country’s modern history, relatives remained unsure when they would be able to bury their loved ones.
Police Commissioner Mike Bush said police were working with pathologists and coroners to release the bodies as soon as they could. “We have to be absolutely clear on the cause of death and confirm their identity before that can happen,” he said. “But we are so aware of the cultural and religious needs. So we are doing that as quickly and as sensitively as possible.” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said a small number of bodies would start being released to families Sunday evening, and authorities hoped to release all the bodies by Wednesday.
But by the end of Sunday night, it was not clear whether any bodies had been released. Police said they had released a preliminary list of the victims to families, which has helped give closure to some relatives who were waiting for any news.
The scale of the tragedy and the task still ahead became clear as supporters arrived from across the country to help with the burial rituals in Christchurch and authorities sent in backhoes to dig new graves in a Muslim burial area that was newly fenced off and blocked from view with white netting. The suspect in the shootings, 28-yearold white supremacist Brenton Harrison Tarrant, appeared in court Saturday amid strict security, shackled and wearing all-white prison garb, and showed no emotion when the judge read him one murder charge and said more would likely follow. (AP)