Christchurch terror attack
Cashmere High School has been hard hit by the terror attack. (Image: Kyodo via AP Images)

As teenagers gathered outside the Masjid Al Noor in a loud and song-filled vigil on Monday afternoon, an 18-year-old was in court facing charges after sharing the terrorist’s livestream of Friday’s shooting.

The Christchurch massacre was unprecedented in just how “online” it was — streamed live over Facebook, and borne out of an ideology that percolated in the bowels of 8chan. 

At Cashmere High School, in southern Christchurch Monday morning, principal Mark Wilson urged his students to stay off social media for the week, and warned that sharing the shooter’s video was a potential criminal offence.

A school in mourning

Cashmere High still bears the scars of the earthquake that ravaged Christchurch eight years ago. When Wilson addressed students at a special assembly to mark last Friday’s terrorist attack, he had to hold it on the school oval in the morning gloom. The hall is still being rebuilt.

The assembly was a poignant one — last Friday, two Cashmere students were among the 50 people murdered as they prayed. Sayyad Milne, a year 10 student, was a keen footballer with dreams of being an engineer or architect. Hamza Mustafa, year 12, joined the school when he arrived in New Zealand last year, after fleeing the civil war in his native Syria. A former student, Tariq Omar, also died.

Different shades of grief

Away from the throng of cameras that would eventually fill his office, Wilson spoke to students under overcast skies he said reflected the mood of the city.

“The best way to drive out darkness and hate and fear is to show love,” he said. A model of composed compassion, Wilson isn’t new to this. He led the school during the 2011 earthquakes and ongoing recovery.

The students then sang “He Honore” — a popular Maori hymn with a message of honour, glory and peace to the land.

Wilson directed students to additional pastoral care services at the school, and told them they could leave if things got too hard. Minutes later, some were already at the office to take the principal up on his offer.

According to Wilson, it was important for parents and teachers to recognise that “grieving occurs in different ways for different people at different times”. “Some people want to talk, some people will over talk… some people will cry now, some people will cry later by themselves.”

Anna Chirnside, a coordinator for Canterbury Youth Workers who also worked with young people after the earthquake told Crikey that it was difficult to predict just how trauma might manifest among students. “Sometimes the effects of these events don’t turn up till years later,” Chirnside said.

But the children and teenagers of Christchurch yesterday seemed to be taking ownership of their grief in a positive and powerful way. Over the weekend, students had organised a food drive to support emergency workers and other people affected by the attack. On Monday afternoon, hundreds came straight from class to a vigil organised by Cashmere High head boy Okirano Tilaia, where they lit candles as a tribute to the slain victims.

The power of song

While Christchurch, and in particular the scene of the shooting, has been laden with sombre sorrow since Friday, the student-led vigil had an altogether different atmosphere — loud and almost joyously defiant.

Draped in the Tino rangatiratanga flag, which represents Maori New Zealand, Shirley Boys’ High School student Justice said it was important for different cultures to come together and show their support. “We’re here to represent all the Maoris and our culture and solidarity,” Justice said.

As at Cashmere in the morning, the importance of song as a tool for healing was on full display at South Hagley Park. Groups of students regularly broke into spontaneous bursts of singing in both English and Maori. Bob Marley’s “One Love” seemed to be a particular favourite. As Piper, a Linwood High School student told Crikey, “I swear us Kiwis get any chance we can to sing. It’s good for the soul”.

Reflecting on the vigil, Linwood High School student Eda said, despite the saddening attack, the response from the city’s youth was inspiring. “It shows that we can actually stand up, as a family, as a whānau [roughly translated as family]and show some love,” he said. Piper agreed, “we all bleed exactly the same”.

Crikey has two reporters on the ground in Christchurch this week. Read more of their coverage here

Peter Fray

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