Police in New Zealand said on Sunday that the right-wing terrorist behind a massacre at two mosques in Christchurch was acting alone, as it emerged the killer's manifesto had been sent to the country's prime minister minutes before the tragedy unfolded.
Australian Brenton Tarrant, 28, sent a racist, rambling manifesto to prime minister Jacinda Ardern in which he denied being linked to any organisations and said he was acting on his own.
The document, which praised President Donald Trump and Norwegian mass killer Anders Breivik, was emailed to Ms Ardern's office just 9 minutes before the attack began.
However, a senior White House official said it was unfair to cast the shooter as a supporter of President Trump based on one reference to him in the manifesto.
Acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney told "Fox News Sunday" that the shooter was a "disturbed individual" and an "evil person." Mr Mulvaney said attempts to tie the shooter to any American politician "probably ignores some of the deeper difficulties that this sort of activity exposes."
It came as a man whose wife was killed in the attack as she rushed back into a mosque to rescue him said he harbours no hatred toward the gunman, insisting forgiveness is the best path forward. "I would say to him 'I love him as a person'," said Farid Ahmad, whose wife Husna Ahmad, 44, was killed at the Al Noor mosque - the first of two targeted by the gunman. "I could not accept what he did. What he did was a wrong thing," he added.
Asked if he forgave the 28-year-old white supremacist suspect, he said: "Of course. The best thing is forgiveness, generosity, loving and caring, positivity."
Tarrant has also broadcast the massacre live on social media, using a head-mounted camera, which sparked an outcry across the world as platforms such as Facebook were slow to take down the grisly footage.
Facebook, YouTube and Twitter had scrambled to take down duplicates of the video at the request of the New Zealand police. The footage showed worshippers being sprayed with bullets, with some trying to crawl away, as Tarrant moved through Al Noor Mosque.
A spokesman for Facebook said it had blocked or removed 1.5m copies of the video after the original was streamed online. Traditional media outlets were also criticised for broadcasting lengthy segments of the 16-minute video clip.
Sky New Zealand removed Rupert Murdoch-owned Sky News Australia from broadcasts after the channel repeatedly screened extracts of the footage. “We made the decision on Friday with Sky News Australia to replace their live news with sport,” Sky New Zealand tweeted on Friday evening.
The call was made “to ensure coverage doesn’t compromise ongoing investigations in NZ”. On Sunday, Ms Ardern said the bodies of those who died were beginning to be returned to their families as of that evening. She said it was expected all would be returned by Wednesday.
Two days after the massacre, Dunedin woman Jackie Lawton, 34, said she was "still just overwhelmed and so sad” thinking about the lives lost. She went to a vigil with hundreds of others, held outside Dunedin’s Al Huda Mosque on Sunday afternoon.
The last time Ms Lawton attended a vigil was in December, to honour slain British backpacker Grace Millane. “When Grace Millane was murdered the whole country mourned, deeply, for weeks. We felt like we knew her, even though she’d been here for such a short time,” she said. “This is 50 people though – each one as loved and needed as Grace. This is Grace times 50 and I don’t know if we can even process that.”
Flowers, candles, and messages of solidarity had been placed in front of the mosque and a group sang hymns before performing a haka. Vigils have been held the length of the country over the weekend. Christchurch local James Tawhiti, 41, had driven down to Dunedin on Saturday “because it was too tense and sad and awful."
“We’ve all already been through the earthquakes, that screwed a lot of people up,” he said. “But this is somehow worse because it’s a man-made tragedy.
Natural disasters aren’t evil like this and it just feels like we’ve lost something, maybe our innocence.” Three students from Cashmere High School were at the Al Noor Mosque for Friday prayers when the attacker burst in. Two of the students are presumed dead and the third is in the hospital with gunshot wounds.
The father of Sayyad Milne, 14, told the New Zealand Herald that his son was last seen lying on the bloody floor of the mosque bleeding from his lower body. "I've lost my little boy. He's just turned 14," he told the newspaper. "I remember him as my baby who I nearly lost when he was born.
Such a struggle he's had throughout all his life. He's been unfairly treated but he's risen above that and he's very brave. A brave little soldier. It's so hard ... to see him just gunned down by someone who didn't care about anyone or anything," Milne said. "I know where he is. I know he's at peace."
Current students weren't the only ones caught in Friday's mass shootings, the deadliest terrorist attacks in the country's modern history.
A former Cashmere High School student is also believed to have been killed, as was the father of another student. Outside the school on Sunday, students came in a trickle to lean bouquets of flowers up against a construction barricade, evidence of the ongoing rebuilding from Christchurch's 2011 earthquake.
Principal Mark Wilson said counselors and trauma specialists will be on hand when classes resume at the diverse school of more than 2,000. "I'm very confident in our staff; I'm very confident in our school community. It's made up of awesome people," Wilson said. "It's still going to be hard. There's going to be a lot of grief. There's going to be a lot of sadness. I think we've also got to be very patient with each other."
Wilson declined to talk about the boys believed to have been killed, but confirmed three students were at the mosque on Friday and said one remained hospitalized with gunshot wounds to the leg. The principal noted that schools can often be a safe place for children coping with trauma.
He is also encouraging students to take up their own acts of love to counteract the tragedy.