The Australian white supremacist gunman who killed 50 people in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand last Friday was en route to carry out a third attack when he was apprehended, police said Wednesday.
There had been speculation that the gunman planned more attacks, but authorities are now saying they “absolutely” believe they arrested the 28-year-old suspect “on the way to a further attack,” Police Commissioner Mike Bush said Wednesday.
“We strongly believe we stopped him on the way to further attack,” he told reporters, according to BuzzFeed News. “Lives were saved.”
He gave no more details, saying he did not want to “traumatize others,” CNN reported.
The officers who arrested the gunman, Brenton Tarrant, were in the middle of a training session on how to stop armed offenders when they received the call that the shooting was under way, the New Zealand Herald reported. The two officers jumped into their car and tried to conceptualize the route that the gunman would take if he were leaving the second mosque and avoiding the city’s central business district, the newspaper recounted.
They spotted him careening through traffic, hazard lights blinking, rammed his vehicle and dragged the ammo-laden suspect out of his car, though they were armed only with handguns, the Herald said. Explosive devices were also found in the car and later defused.
New Zealand authorities are now immersed in the painstaking task of identifying the victims and their exact causes of death. About 30 of the 50 bodies have been released, CNN said.
As the bereaved families started to bury their dead, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the country would hold two minutes of silence on Friday to commemorate the victims.
“There’s a sense among New Zealanders that they wish to show to the Muslim community their support, their love,” she said at a news conference in Christchurch, according to CNN. “But the challenge for all of us going forward is that their safety is assured by making sure we never have an environment where violent extremist ideology can flourish. And that means addressing racism and extremism wherever it emerges.”