Christchurch Victims' Bodies To Be Released To Family For Funerals
The bodies of victims of the Christchurch terror attack are expected to be released to grieving families on Sunday, authorities confirmed.
But with the death toll from the mosque shootings now raised to 50, and the formal identification process still ongoing, authorities have warned families they may still have some time to wait before they can bury their loved ones.
Authorities have been open about their understanding of the cultural and religious practices underpinning the difficult task and have stressed they are working hard to ensure bodies are released to families as quickly as possible.
Muslim tradition dictates burials should occur within 24 hours of a person's death after the bodies are washed and shrouded.
On Sunday, deputy police commissioner Wally Haumaha said authorities have had "lengthy discussions" with Muslim leaders, imams and family liaisons about the difficulty of releasing bodies during an active criminal investigation.
"They now understand that, given that this is an unprecedented event in this country, they are very supportive in terms of the length of time it takes to do this," Haumaha said.
"This is a criminal investigation unlike anything that we've had before, and we don't want to compromise that investigation, so we are taking our time to ensure we get it right".
Chief Coroner Judge Deborah Marshall added that each body would undergo tests to ensure that the right person is identified -- including a CT scan, fingerprints, and examination of dental records.
Families will also be asked for information about their missing relatives including how much they weighed, any scars and what personal items they may have been carrying on them.
Marshall said there would be "nothing worse than giving the wrong body to the wrong family".
"We find, from overseas example, that when you try and speed up the process or miss out steps, that is exactly what happens," she told a media conference.
"And it's not going to happen here".
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has told families the return of bodies should be complete by Wednesday and also said the burial costs would be paid for by the government.
Workers spent Sunday morning digging graves at a Muslim cemetery in preparation for the burials as dozens of family members arrived from overseas.
Australian volunteers began flying into Christchurch on Saturday to help with the washing rituals.
"Becuase of the tragedy a lot of people are still in shock," Australian volunteer Haris Thahar told 10 News First.
"They're still distressed, they won't be able to do the rituals themselves".
"It's because it's our obligation to do it, regardless of their nationality or background," fellow volunteer Ari Mustafa added.
At least 12 people, including children, are still critical in conditions in hospital.
The death toll initially stood at 49 but was sadly increased to 50 on Sunday morning when police said another body had been found during recovery at one of the mosques.
New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush said a list of victims' names had been compiled "to give some certainty to victim's families", but stressed the formal identification process was ongoing.
"Many of their families know that, although they have not been formally identified, they are missing, a few presumed deceased," Haumaha said on Sunday.