Hundreds Gather As Father And Son First Victims To Be Buried In Christchurch
A father and son, who arrived in New Zealand months ago after fleeing war-torn Syria, were the first victims of the Christchurch terror attack to be buried.
Khaled Mustafa, 44, and his 15-year-old son, Hamza were laid to rest five days after they were killed alongside 48 others in the attack on two Christchurch mosques.
Among the hundreds of mourners who gathered at the Memorial Park Cemetary in Linwood, east of Christchurch, was Zaid Mustafa -- Khaled's son, Hamza's brother.
Zaid, who was also injured in the attack, sat in a wheelchair and was surrounded by other mourners as they paid their last respects to the father and son.
"I don't want to be here alone," he was heard saying, according to Fairfax.
A funeral prayer echoed out across the cemetery and beyond, as father and son were carried across the site and lowered into the ground.
They were the first of the 50 victims to be buried, after their bodies were released back to their family following an extensive forensic investigation process.
Earlier on Wednesday, NZ Police Commisioner, Mike Bush confirmed 21 of the victims had been formally identified, and their bodies were being made available to their families.
Another six bodies are expected to be ready for release at noon Wednesday, taking the total to 27, Bush said.
"By the end of Wednesday, we should have completed the majority of those identifications," Commissioner Bush told reporters in Christchurch.
"I have to say some of those victims will take a little longer."
Over the weekend, authorities repeatedly thanked the Muslim community for their patience in waiting for the bodies to be released --Muslim tradition dictates burials should occur within 24 hours of a person's death after the bodies are washed and shrouded -- but coroners have taken no risks with identification of the victims.
"To get it wrong is unforgivable and you cannot go back from that," Bush said on Wednesday.
Bush said the number one priority is the victims and their families -- "but we do of course have other obligations," he added.
He said each body needed to be identified to an evidential standard for the coroner, so that the exact cause of death could be established.
"We cannot convict for murder without that cause of death," he said.
Bush said more than 120 people were involved in the process of identification, including pathologists, police, and forensic experts from New Zealand and Australia, as well as the FBI.
He also confirmed authorities believe officers, who arrested the suspect within 21 minutes of the first emergency call, thwarted a further attack.
Special liaisons have also been employed to meet with each of the victims' families.
On Wednesday, NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern travelled back to Christchurch to meet with high school classmates of two of the mosque victims.
"It is OK to grieve. It is OK to ask for help ... You have the support of all New Zealanders," she told the students.
Ardern also announced a two-minute silence would be held for the victims across New Zealand on Friday, one week after the attack.
Plans for a public memorial are also underway, the Prime Minister said.
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