A gunman in New Zealand kills 2 people hours ahead of first game in Women’s World Cup

The gunman was found dead after a police shootout, during which an officer was shot and wounded. Four civilians were also injured

Police stand guard at a cordoned off area near the site of a shooting, in Queen Street, Auckland, New Zealand, 20 July 2023.
Police stand guard at a cordoned off area near the site of a shooting, in Queen Street, Auckland, New Zealand, 20 July 2023.HOW HWEE YOUNG (EFE)

A man stormed a high-rise construction site in downtown Auckland early Thursday morning, shooting at terrified workers and killing two people hours before New Zealand planned to host the first game of the FIFA Women’s World Cup tournament.

The gunman was found dead after a police shootout, during which an officer was shot and wounded. Four civilians were also injured.

The shooting happened near hotels where Team Norway and other soccer teams have been staying.

New Zealand Prime Minster Chris Hipkins said the tournament would go ahead as scheduled. Police said there would be heightened security at the tournament’s opening game to help reassure fans, and FIFA said a minute of silence would be observed before each of the two opening games.

“Clearly with the FIFA World Cup kicking off this evening, there are a lot of eyes on Auckland,” Hipkins said. “The government has spoken to FIFA organizers this morning and the tournament will proceed as planned.”

“I want to reiterate that there is no wider national security threat,” he added. “This appears to be the action of one individual.”

The shooting jarred New Zealand, where active shooter incidents are rare, leading the country’s the main news websites and broadcasts.

Hipkins said the man was armed with a shotgun, adding that police arrived within minutes of the first emergency call and ran into harm’s way to save lives.

“These kinds of situations move fast, and the actions of those who risk their lives to save others are nothing short of heroic,” Hipkins said.

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said the gunman was a 24-year-old who had previously worked at the building site, and his motive appeared to be connected to his work there.

The man identified as the shooter had a history of family violence and was serving a sentence of home detention, but had an exemption to work at the lower Queen Street site, Coster said.

The shooting began at about 7:20 a.m., and police soon swarmed the area.

The shooter moved through the unfinished building firing at people, Coster said, as many workers fled or hid. He then barricaded himself in an elevator shaft on the third floor, Coster said, where SWAT-type officers engaged him after securing the floors above and below.

“The offender fired at police, injuring an officer,” Coster said. “Shots were exchanged and the offender was later found deceased.”

Coster said it wasn’t yet clear whether police had shot the man or he had killed himself. He said the suspected shooter didn’t have a gun license and so shouldn’t have been in possession of a firearm.

Outside, armed police officers placed an area in Auckland’s downtown on heavy lockdown, with streets cordoned off surrounding the harbor ferry terminal, which is popular with tourists. Police ordered bystanders to disperse and told people inside office buildings to shelter in place.

The shooting happened as soccer teams and fans gathered in New Zealand for the FIFA Women’s World Cup, which the country is hosting jointly with Australia. The opening match is scheduled to be played in Auckland on Thursday evening, between New Zealand and Norway. Hipkins said he was considering whether he’d attend the match as planned.

Team Norway captain Maren Mjelde said her teammates were woken up abruptly when a helicopter began hovering outside the hotel window.

“We felt safe the whole time,” she said in a statement. “FIFA has a good security system at the hotel, and we have our own security officer in the squad. Everyone seems calm and we are preparing as normal for the game tonight.”

Team USA said all its players and staff were safe and accounted for. It said the team was in contact with local authorities and proceeding with its daily schedule.

Officials at Eden Park, where the opening match of the FIFA tournament is taking place, said they were encouraging ticket holders to arrive early and there would be an increased security presence at the venue.

New Zealand has tight gun laws, imposed in 2019 after the country’s worst mass shooting prompted a sea change in attitudes toward guns. A shooter killed 51 Muslim worshippers at two Christchurch mosques during Friday prayers in March 2019.

The prime minister at the time, Jacinda Ardern, vowed to ban most semiautomatic weapons within a month and she succeeded, with only a single member of Parliament voting against the ban.

A subsequent buyback scheme saw gun owners hand over more than 50,000 of the newly banned weapons to police in exchange for cash.

Coster said the shotgun used in Thursday’s shooting is not on the list of banned weapons.

“I want to acknowledge that this has been a shocking and traumatic event for those people who came to work and found themselves in the middle of an armed emergency,” Coster said. “Thankfully, many people were able to escape the building, but I know for those who hid or remained trapped, this was a terrifying experience.”

Coster said the officer who was shot was taken to a nearby hospital in critical condition, had stabilized, and was expected to undergo surgery Thursday. He said the others had injuries ranging from moderate to critical. It wasn’t immediately clear if all those injured had been shot.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino said that he and Secretary-General Fatma Samoura had met with New Zealand Sports Minister Grant Robertson following the shooting to discuss security arrangements for the tournament.

“We appreciate the collaboration with the New Zealand authorities from the earliest moment of this tragic incident,” Infantino said in a statement. “We have been involved in ongoing communication from the outset, and we have also received the necessary reassurances.”

Jennifer Deering, a tourist from Orlando, Florida, said she was initially shocked to learn of the shooting after a tour guide had previously assured her that Auckland “was very safe here, other than some petty thieves.”

Then she went about her day.

“It’s sad that it’s normal for us (Americans) to see something like this on the news,” she added.

Tourism New Zealand canceled a media welcome party that was to have been held Thursday afternoon at a location within the cordoned-off area downtown.

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