Accused Christchurch shooter changes plea to guilty - media reports
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she let out a "massive sigh of relief" after hearing that the man who committed the worst atrocity in New Zealand's modern history when he slaughtered 51 worshippers at two Christchurch mosques unexpectedly pleaded guilty to all charges Thursday.
Ardern, who was praised around the world for her empathetic response to the Muslim community after the attacks, said it was "deeply disappointing" the victims didn't get to attend the hearing.
But she said there was "a certain sense of relief that the whole nation, but particularly our Muslim community, are being spared from a trial that could have otherwise acted as a platform."
The attacks targeting people praying at the mosques a year ago shocked the nation and prompted new laws banning the deadliest types of semi-automatic weapons.
It also prompted global changes to social media protocols after the gunman live streamed his attack on Facebook, where it was viewed by hundreds of thousands of people.
The sudden turn in the case took survivors and relatives by surprise, and brought relief to people across New Zealand.
Many had feared Australian white supremacist Brenton Harrison Tarrant would try to use his trial as a platform to promote his views.
He'd outlined those views in a 74-page manifesto he published online shortly before the attacks.
Tarrant, 29, pleaded guilty to 51 counts of murder, 40 counts of attempted murder and one count of terrorism at the Christchurch High Court.
He had previously pleaded not guilty to all charges and his trial had been scheduled to start in June.
The change in plea came at a hastily arranged court hearing at a time that New Zealand was beginning a four-week lockdown to try and combat the new coronavirus.
The lockdown meant Tarrant appeared in the court via video link from his jail cell in Auckland and only a handful of people were allowed inside the courtroom, including the imams from the two mosques that were attacked.
Ardern also thanked the nation for observing the lockdown to "break the chain of COVID-19."