The maximum available sentence ever applied in New Zealand on 29-year-old Brenton Tarrant serves justice but offers no quick healing for survivors and relatives of victims.
The harshest criminal punishment ever applied in New Zealand ––life behind bars for the man behind the Christchurch mosque massacres –– has offered justice but leaves a long and painful road to healing for survivors and loved ones of those killed in the attack.
Brenton Tarrant, a 29-year-old self-proclaimed white supremacist, will die in jail under a life sentence without parole that he was handed on Thursday.
He killed 51 Muslim worshippers with high powered guns during Friday prayers at two Christchurch mosques in March 2019.
"Finally justice has been served," said Hina Amir, on the phone from her living room a few suburbs away from the street in front of Al Noor mosque where her and husband Amir Daud survived a hail of Tarrant's bullets in their car.
Together on their lounge they watched a live stream of three emotional days of sentencing proceedings, as other survivors and relatives confronted Tarrant directly in court and asked he never be released.
"It's a relief," said Amir, 34. "You feel angry, anxious, mixed with a feeling that this guy maybe, maybe, he's regretting his actions, which we can't guess because he was so emotionless," she said.
Also on Amir's mind this week was Tarrant's mother.
"She's a mother," she said. "Whatever your kid will do, he is your child. That is a kind of a feeling I've had for the last three days."
Outside the courthouse, the sentence was greeted with cheers.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern welcomed the life sentence for the Christchurch mosque gunman, saying he deserved a lifetime of "complete and utter silence".
"The trauma of March 15 is not easily healed but today I hope is the last where we have any cause to hear or utter the name of the terrorist behind it," said Ardern on Thursday, who was widely praised for her response to the attacks last year that killed 51 Muslim worshippers.
"Nothing will take the pain away, but I hope you felt the arms of New Zealand around you through this whole process", she said.
"His deserves to be a lifetime of complete and utter silence."
The judge imposed the maximum available sentence on 29-year-old Australian gunman Brenton Harrison Tarrant, the first time the sentence has been imposed in New Zealand.
Judge Cameron Mander said Tarrant's crimes were so wicked that a lifetime in jail could not begin to atone for them. He said they had caused enormous loss and hurt and stemmed from a warped and malignant ideology.
“Your actions were inhuman,” Mander said. “You deliberately killed a 3-year-old infant as he clung to the leg of his father.”
The March 2019 attacks targeting people praying at the Al Noor and Linwood mosques shocked New Zealand and prompted new laws banning the deadliest types of semi-automatic weapons. They also prompted global changes to social media protocols after the gunman live-streamed his attack on Facebook.
During the four-day sentencing hearing, 90 survivors and family members recounted the horror of the attacks and the trauma they continue to feel.
Some chose to yell at the gunman and give him the finger. Others called him a monster, a coward, a rat. Some sung verses from the Quran or addressed him in Arabic. A few spoke softly to Tarrant, saying they forgave him.
Tarrant had earlier fired his lawyers and told the judge that he didn’t wish to speak at the hearing. A standby lawyer appointed by the court told the judge that Tarrant did not oppose a sentence of life without parole.
Mander noted that Tarrant had recently told assessors that he now rejects his extremist philosophy and considers his attacks “abhorrent and irrational.”
But Mander said the sincerity of that change of heart was questionable and Tarrant had still shown no empathy toward his victims or sorrow for what he had done.
Prepared to kill more
Tarrant in March had pleaded guilty to 51 counts of murder, 40 counts of attempted murder and one count of terrorism, reversing his earlier not guilty pleas.
Prosecutors said Tarrant had flown a drone over the Al Noor mosque and researched the layout as he meticulously planned his attacks. He arrived with six guns including two AR-15s.
Crown prosecutor Mark Zarifeh said he'd aimed to kill as many people as possible.
“The offender's actions are a painful and harrowing mark in New Zealand’s history,” he said.
Tarrant was noticeably thinner in his sentencing hearing than when he was first arrested.
He didn't show the brazenness he did at his first court appearance the day after the attacks, when he made a hand gesture sometimes adopted by white supremacists.
Dressed in a gray prison tracksuit, Tarrant showed little emotion during his sentencing. He watched the speakers, occasionally giving a small nod or covering his mouth as he laughed at jokes, often made at his expense.
Sara Qasem spoke on Thursday during the four-day hearing about her beloved father Abdelfattah, who was killed in the attacks.
“All a daughter ever wants is her dad. I want to go on more road trips with him. I want to smell his garden-sourced cooking. His cologne,” she said.
“I want to hear him tell me more about the olive trees in Palestine. I want to hear his voice. My dad’s voice. My baba’s voice.”