Ashburton police on high alert

The scene in Christchurch.

One of New Zealand’s darkest days has cast its ugly shadow on Mid Canterbury.

While many people who call the district home were caught up in the effects of the terrorist attack that killed 49 people in Christchurch, police flooded to protect local places of Muslim worship.

Ashburton’s Islamic place of worship on Tinwald’s Jane Street between State Highway 1 and McMurdo Street was blocked off by multiple armed police officers and police cars.

After the Christchurch shootings and well into the evening a heavy police presence remained at the Ashburton Masjid.

The Masjid was converted from a church building in 2017.

The Masjid is just up the road from Tinwald School which was advised to close its grounds following the arrival of police.

“We received a notification after 3 o’clock to ensure all students and staff go home as soon as possible and that all the buildings will be locked and that is what we have done,” school principal Peter Livingstone said.

“I have also sent a text message to all of our families to ensure that children do not come back to the school to play as the grounds are closed.

“All our thoughts are with the people of Christchurch.”

An online manifesto said to be written by one of the alleged shooters suggests the Ashburton mosque was also a target.

Attacking the Christchurch and Linwood mosques also allowed for an extra planned attack on the mosque in Ashburton, he said. “Whilst I am unsure as of this time of writing whether I will reach that target, it was a bonus objective.”

Many people were placed in lockdown in Christchurch, including boarding students at well-known high schools.

St Margaret’s College boarder Sammy Hood was at a volleyball tournament and was placed in lockdown at the New Brighton library.

Hood said they were initially not sure what was happening, and that their parents had been advised to not come to the school to collect them.

The lockdown of schools Christchurch-wide ended shortly after 6pm, allowing parents to collect their children under a heavy police presence around the city.

On behalf of the Ashburton District Ashburton Mayor Donna Favel said she was sending her heartfelt support to the families of the victims of the Christchurch mosque shootings.

“This is an incredible shock for all of New Zealand and I’m so saddened by what has happened.”

Favel said she had been in touch with Ashburton police and said she understood there was an increased police presence in the community to ensure public safety.

“To the best of my knowledge everything is contained in Christchurch but this is a developing event and if anyone in our community sees any suspicious activity you must report it to the police. This is such a distressing situation for New Zealand,” she said.

Favel commended the rapid and outstanding response of New Zealand Police to the incident.

She has sent messages of sympathy and support to Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel and to the Ashburton Muslim community.

– By Jaime Pitt-MacKay