In the days after the Christchurch massacre, Crikey’s Rebekah Holt and Kishor Napier-Raman reported on the ground from the shattered city. One month later, Rebekah Holt has gone back to the people she saw and spoke to.
Today in Christchurch it is the last day of term one, and schools are breaking up for the holidays. It is also one month since the terror attacks of March 15.
Five days after the shootings I visited Haeata community campus, built to take the place of three other schools destroyed in the 2011 Christchurch earthquakes. With 670 students aged between five and 19 years of age and 138 staff, Haeata is located in Wainoni, one of the poorest parts of Christchurch. A culturally diverse school, its mission is to prioritise the well being of students alongside their educational needs equally.
At reception there is a large white board with the hand written messages “Free hugs — hugs lift serotonin levels” and “Need to Korero (talk)? Ko Konei Matou (we are here)”.
Rebecca Wilson, a deputy principal in charge of wellbeing and pastoral care, and Jeremy Faumuina a social worker, explained the realities of putting a large school with many exits on lock down during the afternoon of March 15.
“Our school day finishes at 2.30pm and we actually got the call at 2.10pm that we were in lock down,” Wilson said.
“You do feel confident going in because you have drills and plans but then there were things like the doors wouldn’t lock and we had whanau (family) who were really upset trying to get in. Then we had a lot of young people running out in disbelief and wanting to get home and we had to get them back in.”
Faumuina pointed out that the Christchurch community has already dealt with shocking events through the earthquakes. “For a lot of the whanau, lockdown means nothing, they just want their kids. So you’re dealing with that sort of emotional side and I couldn’t let them in so I have to stand there and talk to them through the glass”.
I asked the staff how in a school so rigorously mindful and holistic coped in the first week after the attacks. Faumuina, a father of five replied “I’m good friends with merlot and pinot. Can I say that?”
Yesterday I asked Wilson how they are going at Haeata as we approach the one month mark. “We have some very tired young people and staff here. We still have a lot to process and there is still a feeling of shock and helplessness. We have looked at giving our staff the gift of time and pulled back on meetings and shifted some school events until next term. For us the support is personalised, people need different things”.
I also asked Sarah Hall from the New Zealand Herald how the staff are coping.
“Oh we are definitely all traumatised.” Hall explains that on March 15 when the event was unfolding, she was beside a young editor as the live stream footage from the shooter came through on a monitor. “I realised what was happening, saw the people and basically yelled at them to stop and turn it off”. Hall is a career journalist. “I told the young ones that night, we are humans first journalists second.”
Another journalist admits to me he is avoiding taking days off. “It’s not good, I think too much on a day off. And you just have the nightmares.”
David Williams a Christchurch based journalist tells me he had something of a crisis of confidence in the first week and spoke at length to his editors about it. “I am a white, middle-class guy. I’ve felt the responsibility to tell the Muslim stories very heavily. Part of dealing with it is coming to terms with the voicelessness of the people who died and our role and responsibility in making sure their stories are told now.”
Yesterday, Williams said when he saw the national coverage of the massacre slowing down and other unrelated news coming through, that was when he felt discombobulated.“I felt a mixture of emotions and was perhaps knocked off my own axis when I saw the news moving on”.
When I text my high school friend Nicole yesterday, she is at Christchurch hospital looking after both her parents who are receiving cancer treatment. She says the hospital is like her second home now. I want to know if the hospital still has a heavy police presence that I saw just over two weeks ago.
“Yep two police with guns and a dog, still a weird sight.”
I try to change the subject slightly. “Ooh puppy!”
“It’s a fuckin’ corgi mate. Had a laugh with police and asked what happened to the German shepherds cos they have way more street cred.”