Shot 9 times at New Zealand mosque, survivor walks for peace

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The lingering injuries from being shot nine times did not stop Temel Atacocugu from completing a two-week walk and bike ride for peace on Tuesday, the third anniversary of a gunman's slaughter of 51 Muslim worshippers.

Atacocugu set out to retrace the gunman's 360-kilometer (224-mile) drive from Dunedin to the two Christchurch mosques where he carried out his attack.

“I wanted to fix this damage,” Atacocugu said. “Because three years ago, he started that journey with hate.”

Atacocugu, 47, said he wanted to bless the route, and raise money for charity along the way.

He had intended to walk the entire distance, but about halfway through he got bad blisters after the weather changed from hot one day to rain the next. He also got a mysterious case of blood poisoning, and ended up spending a couple of days in a local hospital.

“The best point was meeting lots of beautiful people and getting great support from them,” he said. “The low point was being in the emergency room. But I was not going to give up. I got on my bike straight after discharge.”

That helped him make up lost time. On Tuesday, he was joined by about 50 supporters as he walked the final stretch to the Al Noor mosque, entering at 1:40 p.m. — the exact time he was shot during Friday prayers in 2019.

“I made a speech, it was very emotional,” Atacocugu said. “I was so happy. It was a big relief to have completed my mission.”

During the attack, Atacocugu was shot in the mouth, his left arm and both legs, and he said he often felt pain from the injuries during his walk and ride. He said he planned to recuperate with a big sleep, and maybe a sauna and spa.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told lawmakers that in the aftermath of the attack, the Muslim community had shown courage, unity and determination.

“March 15 is a date in our collective national history where we learned about the very worst and the very best of humanity,” Ardern said.

Australian white supremacist Brenton Tarrant in 2020 pleaded guilty to 51 counts of murder, 40 counts of attempted murder and one count of terrorism after carrying out the attacks. He was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

An online donations page showed that by Tuesday afternoon, Atacocugu had raised about 64,000 New Zealand dollars ($43,000) for three charities benefitting children.

“All New Zealand is one," Atacocugu said. “Terrorist is nil.”