The massacre claimed the lives of 49 people and at least 48 suffered serious injuries. The victims were attending their Friday (New Zealand time) prayers.
The primary suspect in the mass shooting, a 28-year-old Australian citizen, was yesterday remanded without plea until his next appearance in the New Zealand High Court on April 5.
On Thursday night, New Zealand PM Ardern said the shooting appeared to be well-planned and labelled it as a “terrorist attack”.
In a statement yesterday, PM Puna said the terrible tragedy that unfolded in Christchurch was driven and compelled by those with an agenda of “hate and terror”.
“Our prayers first and foremost go to the victims of this terrible tragedy, their families, friends and loved ones that are now faced with the irreconcilable loss of their loved ones. We also reach out in prayers to the Muslim community in Christchurch and in New Zealand today,” Puna said.
“We think also of our Cook Islands community in Christchurch and in New Zealand, with so many of our people who have made their homes there. New Zealand is home for all of us, and this despicable act will not change that feeling of closeness in us. At this sad and troubling time we hold all our people in New Zealand close in our thoughts and prayers also.”
Puna said as Christians, the Cook Islanders have come to accept the church as a place of refuge, of safety and of comfort.
To see so many innocent lives taken so “callously and cruelly in this place of sanctuary is totally unacceptable”, he added.
“It is an affront to humanity and all that we believe in. In many ways a part of our essence and of our being died with those innocent people in those two mosques.
“But even with tears of sadness in our eyes, we stand firm with prime minister Ardern and the government and people of New Zealand in these their ‘darkest days’ in utterly rejecting and condemning those who have committed this horrendous crime.
“And yet we can take strength that in times such as these we know that good will always triumph over evil, that people will come together to comfort and strengthen each other, and that the God of love will comfort us all during this time of grief, loss and sadness. Together, we have always been stronger.”
New Zealand’s minister for Pacific peoples Aupito William Sio, who is on Rarotonga for a climate change related meeting, said he was shocked by the mass shooting.
Sio thanked PM Puna and deputy prime minister Mark Brown and other Cook Islanders for their words of support and condolences to the New Zealand delegation attending the meeting here.
“We represent diversity, kindness and compassion and I think it’s also the values shared by the Cook Islands and our Pacific region. We are determined that this attack isn’t going to shake or move these values. We are always known as a place of safety and place of peace and we will continue to uphold those values,” Sio said.
“There is a united New Zealand who are standing together in solidarity wanting to support the families of the victims and stand to offer love to them … we are not going to allow these people and the acts of terror to shake our core beliefs.”
Minister Sio said their focus at the moment was to stand in the condemnation that PM Ardern had issued and to offer love and support to the families and victims.
“To maintain the focus that this is not us and this isn’t going to define us. The core values around diversity, kindness and compassion is something that we got to really hold on to but I think it also sends a message that those are the values that we can’t take for granted, we have to fight for it.”