As New Zealand police continue to work with families to positively identify those slain in last Friday’s attack at two Christchurch mosques, members of the community buried their dead Wednesday and pressed forward with their lives.
"The process to reunite the victims with their loved ones, this is for us an absolute priority - for family reasons, for compassionate reasons and for cultural reasons. That's progressing very well, it was our intention to do what we could to complete that by today, we are making very good progress,” said New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush.
He added, "As of last night at 11:30pm, twenty-one of those victims had been formally identified and were being made available to release to their loved ones."
Watch Steve Miller's report from Christchurch
Two of the 50 victims were laid to rest in Memorial Park Cemetery Wednesday.
Hundreds gathered for the memorial service, including some who traveled from elsewhere in the country.
“Seeing the body lowered down, it was a very emotional time for me,” Gulshad Ali told Reuters News Agency. He flew from Auckland to attend the funeral.
While members of the Muslim community were mourning, New Zealand Prime Minister
Ardern visited Christchurch’s Cashmere High School. There, she told students it was “okay to grieve.”
"It is ok to ask for help,” she said, “even if you weren't directly affected. These things, these images that people are seeing they are really difficult to process."
That’s something Jennifer Hammon, a life long resident of Christchurch, is also struggling with - how to make sense of something that many in the city thought was unimaginable, as well as, how to explain what happened to her young daughter.
“You can't explain it,” Hammond told VOA as her voice began trembling, “We lost people who were part of our lives. The thought of children being targeted angers me… you can't even put it into words. It's hurt, there's some anger there, and grief.”
It will take time
With nearly half of the bodies identified and some returned to families, the burial process has begun in Christchurch for those slain. Dr. Reza Abdul-Jabbar, an Imam from Invercargill, came to the city to assist in the process.
“We’ve got to dig in… dig deep within ourselves,” to move past the events of last week Abdul-Jabbar stated.
He says politicians, academics, and religious leaders are now in a position to change how communities deal with extremists.
Abdul-Jabbar urges the dialog on what comes next not be “sugarcoated,” so that real conversations can take place.
“I think we will move forward as a nation,” he said, “because 99.99999 percent of us are behind everybody.”
That sentiment, that those killed Friday are part of the larger New Zealand community and vice versa is also something Hammond believes.
“We rally together. That’s who we are, and we will always be like that,” she said.
But in a city still reeling from an earthquake that killed 185 people in 2011, Hammond notes it will take time and more than just words to help the community heal.
Residents here are struggling to make sense of Friday’s attacks that took place at two mosques, claimed at least 50 lives, left an equal number wounded, nearly a dozen of whom remain in critical care.
While the city is planning a major vigil and memorial Thursday, several community-driven memorials have been erected near the mosques, parks and throughout the city, allowing places for people to grieve.
While the large numbers of visitors to Hagley Park, across the street from the Al Noor mosque, have started to diminish five days after Friday’s attack, the number of memorials and tributes has not.
Adorning the park’s chainlink fence, several “links of love” have been draped over the steel structure and accompanying police tape.
The paper links, woven together, contain messages for those lost and the Muslim community.
“We are here,” “Stay strong,” and “Love” appear on just some of the thousands of links now gracing the park.
Similar thoughts could be found among the notes left at one of the trees surrounded by memorial candles and flower bouquets.
A visitor from the United Kingdom shared their thoughts on the tragedy by leaving a note adorned with an inked flower pattern.
“To the families suffering, please don’t forget there is more good than evil, stay strong. I’m sorry this happened to your loved ones. Everyone is thinking of you and sending you our sympathies and love. Have hope harness your strength. Only love can fight hate,” the note read, signed only as “Peace and Love from the U.K.”
Memorials for individuals have also appeared, as the community shares the names of those were lost.
Ansi Alibava, 23, was killed in Friday’s attack.
Her picture, work smock, flowers, and cards have been placed next to a tree in Hagley Park. Those remembering her also arranged memorial candles to spell out her name and form a heart.
One poem conveyed to the Muslim community the sense of inclusiveness several residents expressed.
“Walking down the street towards those I am going to greet. They may be of different religion or colours. Nonetheless, they are our sisters and brothers. Together a wall we can create to block all this negative hate. We stand united to ignore the fuss, because in the end THEY ARE US!”