People are capable of extraordinary acts of bravery, courage, and love in times of tragedy when their lives, or the lives of people they love, are in danger.
On March 15, 2019, the entire country of New Zealand was shaken to its core when a hate-filled gunman open-fired on innocent people in the middle of prayer. In the wake of the shocking tragedy, however, one man has been hailed a hero for risking his own life and protecting dozens of people from what they believe was certain-death…
On the afternoon of Friday, March 15, 2019, Muslims from around Christchurch, New Zealand made their way to the Linwood Mosque, a local Islamic Center. For mosques around the world, Friday is often the busiest day of the week and the Linwood Mosque was packed full of congregants.
A Mass Shooting
The group of worshippers was preparing to enjoy the weekend ahead. They had no idea at the time that more than 40 people had just been killed after a lone gunman was open fired on dozens of Muslims at the Al Noor Mosque, which was just three miles away from them, and that the attacker was headed to them next.
The Attack Begins
According to Latef Alabi, the acting imam at the Linwood Mosque, prayers were underway when he heard a voice from outside the mosque at around 1:55 in the afternoon. Alabi didn’t understand what was going on, so he stopped the prayer he was leading and looked out the window.
Alabi immediately saw a man wearing black military-style clothes and gear. He was wearing a helmet and was holding a large gun so Alabi and many other people who had peaked out the window assumed it was a police officer. Then everyone heard gunshots and Alabi spotted two bodies on the ground.
This Is A killer
“I realized this is something else. This is a killer,” Alabi said in a statement reported by the Los Angeles Times. The two bodies on the ground were two congregants who had been running late to the service and had been shot down while making their way to the mosque.
About 80 people had been at the prayer service that afternoon and Alabi yelled for them all to get down. At first, people were confused and hesitated. But when a shot was fired and a body fell, everyone immediately understood the danger was real.
That afternoon, Abdul Aziz Wahabzadah brought his four children to take part in Friday prayers at the Linwood Mosque. According to Wahabzadah, he initially thought the sound of gunshots was fireworks. But as the noise continued, more people around him started to fall to the ground.
A Father’s Instinct
Without thinking, the 48-year-old furniture shop owner ran outside as soon as he realized what was happening. On his way out, Wahabzadah grabbed the first thing he could find, which was a credit card machine that had been on a desk near one of the entrances to the building.
A Confusing Moment
“Come here!” Wahabzadah shouted as he ran toward the gunman, who police later identified as a 28-year-old Australian man named Brenton Tarrant. “I didn’t know if he was the good guy or the bad guy you know,” Wahabzadah told the Sydney Morning Herald about the shocking attack.
The Bad Guy
“I said, ‘Who are you?’ and, I am sorry but I used some bad language and I swear to him,” Wahabzadah said about Tarrant, who was by his car trying to get another weapon at the time. “When he swear back at me I realize he is the bad guy and I threw the machine at him.”
According to Wahabzadah, his main goal was to keep Tarrant out of the mosque at all costs. He hurled the wireless credit card machine at Tarrant, but the gunman ducked. His sons watched from the door of the mosque and begged their father to come back inside.
The Shots Continue
“Please come inside,” the boys begged their father as they feared he would be killed. “I told them ‘you guys go inside, I will be alright.’,” Wahabzadah told Sky News. “Then he managed to get another gun and start shooting at me. He probably did around four or five shots at me.”
“I was ducking between the cars. I wanted him to be away from the mosque, so I called to him,” Wahabzadah explained. “When I went to the side of the mosque I saw there was a dead body with a shotgun there. I just grabbed that shotgun [but] when I pulled the trigger there was no bullet in it,” he told RNZ News.
“Then I called him. I said, ‘Look! I’m in the car park – come this way, come this way!’ I just wanted to take his focus away from the mosque [so he would] come into the car park. Even if I got shot that’s alright, as long as we could save some other lives,” the brave father said.
Wahabzadah then started running toward the gunman as he made his way back to his car for more weapons. “When he sees me … chasing with a gun, he sat in his car,” Wahabzadah said. “And I just got the gun and throw it on his window like an arrow and blast his window.”
“And he thought probably I shot him or something and … he drove off,” said Wahabzadah, who then proceeded to chase Tarrant as far as he could before he raced off. Shortly after, police rammed the white supremacist’s car off the road and arrested Tarrant on the spot.
A Traumatizing Moment
Meanwhile, Wahabzadah returned to the mosque to make sure his children were safe. “I saw a lot of injuries and deaths and I didn’t know if all my sons were alright,” Wahabzadah said. “I went but I couldn’t see my boys because everyone had dived. My five-year-old was lying down and my 25-year-old was lying on top of him trying to cover him up. I didn’t know if they were OK.”
A National Tragedy
“My 11-year-old son was screaming and shouting, ‘Daddy are you all right? Are you all right? It was very hard. Very, very hard,” Wahabzadah said. In total, 50 people were killed in both attacks and many more were injured making it the most deadly mass shooting in New Zealand’s modern history.
However, many are now calling Wahabzadah a hero and know the death toll would have been much higher if he hadn’t chased off the shooter. According to Wahabzadah, a refugee from Afghanistan who moved to New Zealand two and a half years ago after living in Australia for 27 years, was ready to sacrifice his life that day and credited God for saving everyone.
A Powerful Message
“I promise you I wasn’t frightened or anything. I was doing my job,” Wahabzadah said. “Anyone would have done the same thing. We are all human beings. We love each other, we try to protect each other.” And for those who are afraid of or hated Muslims, Wahabzadah had a powerful message. “The message is, we love them. They should not be afraid of us. We are all one family … We have the same colored blood.”