NICK PERRY and JENNA FRYER (Associated Press)
AUCKLAND, New Zealand (FloridaToday.news) — Early Thursday morning, an armed man opened fire on terrified workers at a construction site in downtown Auckland, killing two people hours before New Zealand hosted the first game of the Women’s World Cup. The man was found dead and authorities said his motive appeared to be related to his previous work at the facility.
New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said the shooting was a one-off act and the FIFA tournament opened as scheduled with a game between the home team and Norway, albeit with tighter security measures, and many were thwarted in a country where such attacks are rare. A large crowd, including the Prime Minister, was still in the stadium and a moment of silence was dedicated to the victims of the shooting, which also injured a policeman and four civilians.
“I want to reiterate that there is no broader national security threat,” Hipkins said. “It seems to be the action of one person.”
Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said the 24-year-old shooter, who had previously experienced domestic violence, was serving a house arrest sentence but had previously worked on a construction site and was eligible.
The shooting began early in the morning when a man armed with a shotgun moved through the unfinished building, shooting at people as many fled or hid, Koster said. Then the man barricaded himself in the elevator shaft, and a group of special forces drove inside.
“The perpetrator fired at the police, wounding the officer,” Coster said. “There was a gunfight and the perpetrator was later found dead.”
Koster said it was not yet clear if police shot the man or if he committed suicide. He said the man did not have a license to carry a firearm and therefore should not have had a firearm, even though a shotgun is not on the list of prohibited weapons.
Hipkins praised the police for arriving within minutes of the first 911 call.
“Situations like this move quickly, and the actions of those who risk their lives to save others are nothing short of heroic,” Hipkins said.
Armed police placed the area in downtown Auckland under tight lockdown, and cordoned off the streets around the ferry terminal in the harbor, which is popular with tourists. Police ordered passers-by to disperse and told people inside the office buildings to take cover in place.
The shooting occurred near hotels where football teams were staying ahead of the opening of the Women’s World Cup, which New Zealand and Australia are hosting.
Norway captain Maren Mjelde said her teammates woke up abruptly when a helicopter hovered outside the hotel window.
“All this time we felt safe,” she said in a statement. “FIFA has a good security system at the hotel and we have our own security officer on the team. Everyone seems calm and we are preparing for today’s game as normal.”
Team USA said all of its players and staff are safe and under supervision. It says the team has contacted local authorities and continues with their daily schedule.
New Zealand has tough gun laws, introduced in 2019 after a brutal mass shooting in the country sparked a drastic change in attitudes towards guns. During this attack, the shooter killed 51 Muslim believers in two mosques in Christchurch during Friday prayers.
Then-Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern promised to ban most semi-automatic weapons within a month, and she succeeded, with only one MP voting against the ban.
In a subsequent buyback scheme, gun owners turned over 50,000 recently banned weapons to police in exchange for cash.
Jennifer Dearing, a tourist from Orlando, Florida, said she was initially shocked to learn of the shooting after her tour guide assured her that Oakland “is very safe here, apart from some petty thieves.”
Then she went about her business.
“It’s sad that it’s normal for us (Americans) to see something like this in the news,” she added.
Koster said the injured officer was taken to a nearby hospital in critical condition, his condition has stabilized and is expected to undergo surgery. According to him, the rest of the injuries are from moderate to critical severity. It did not immediately become clear whether all the wounded were shot.
“I want to acknowledge that this was a shocking and traumatic event for those people who came to work and found themselves in the midst of an emergency,” Coster said. “Fortunately, many people managed to get out of the building, but I know that for those who hid or remained trapped, it was a terrible experience.”
FIFA president Gianni Infantino said he and general secretary Fatma Samoura met with New Zealand sports minister Grant Robertson after the shooting to discuss security arrangements for the tournament.
Tourism New Zealand has canceled a media welcome party that was scheduled to take place on Thursday afternoon in a cordoned off area in the city centre.
Perry reported from Wellington, New Zealand.