17 March 2019
Wellington: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Sunday said bodies of those killed in the Christchurch mosques shooting will begin to be returned to their families starting with a small number.
Police and Coronial Services were working with urgency and care to identify the victims and handle them according to an internationally approved process, Chief Coroner Judge Deborah Marshall said.
"Identification hearings will start this afternoon and we are anticipating that the process of returning the deceased will commence tonight," said Deputy Commissioner Wally Haumaha.
"This is a complex task which must be completed according to New Zealand law. We are working closely with community representatives to explain the process," he added.
Police have gathered the evidence and was working with families of those who were still missing.
The Coroner is confirming the victims' identities. "We acknowledge that the last 48 hours have been the most horrific in these families lives.
"We understand it is an added trauma for them that they have not been able to bury their loved ones quickly, according to their religious duty," he said.
"We are working closely with Imams from Mosques and the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand.
"This is an unprecedented event and the support of the Muslim leaders and their community has been invaluable," said Haumaha.
Police and Coronial Services are very focused and working together closely to run the process in a way that is culturally appropriate, robust, and with speed.
Marshall and two other coroners and four support staff are in Christchurch to provide additional capability and support to the locally-based coroners to help speed up the process, the New Zealand Herald reported.
The nationalities of the victims cannot be confirmed at this stage, Marshall said, adding that information on this will be released as soon as possible as the coronial process continues.
"This is a long and complex process and all organisations involved are working as quickly as possible to return loved ones to their families but it's vital we have certainty around cause of death for any future court proceedings," Detective Superintendent Peter Read says.
The deceased are examined and documented in situ, then taken to the mortuary.
The suspect 28-year-old Brenton Tarrant, had killed 49 people and injured 50 more in New Zealand's worst attack, when he opened fire at the Al Noor and Linwood mosques during the Friday prayers. One more person succumbed later.
Tarrant has been charge with one count of murder and kept in a high- security facility, Ardern told a press conference.
There would be an increased police presence in Christchurch, the country's second largest city on Monday, with an extra 120 officers, she added, adding all mosques would be guarded by the police.
While she would hold a crucial cabinet meet, specialist teams would be at Christchurch schools and early learning centres. Support lines would also be available to anyone who needs it, Ardern said.
The parliament would pay tribute to the victims on Tuesday. A special vigil has been arranged on Sunday evening in Christchurch where police, hospitals, first responders would be present.