Auckland, New Zealand
A rare multiple shooting in the center of Auckland just hours before the opening of the Women’s World Cup rattled the city as tens of thousands gathered to watch New Zealand play Norway in the first game of the tournament.
New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins outlined details of the attack in a hastily called news conference, confirming that three people had died – including the gunman – and several others were injured.
Emergency services rushed to the city’s central business district just after 7 a.m. local time Thursday, after reports that a man armed with a pump action shotgun had opened fire on a construction site, he said.
“He moved through the building site discharging the firearm as he went,” Hipkins said. “Upon reaching the upper levels of the building, the man contained himself in an elevator. Shots were fired, and he was located a short time later.”
News footage showed heavily armed police dressed in body armour and carrying rifles flocking to the scene and cordoning off swathes of the business district.
Hipkins said the actions of the police officers who “ran into the gunfire, straight into harm’s way in order to save the lives of others” were “nothing short of heroic.”
New Zealand Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said one officer was shot as he attempted to engage the gunman, and four civilians had “moderate to critical injuries.”
Coster said the suspect was under home detention orders but had an exemption to work at the construction site where the shooting took place, and the incident was believed to be related to his work there.
The man had a “family violence history” but there was “nothing to suggest that he has presented a high level risk,” Coster said. He did not have a firearms license, Coster added.
New Zealand Police said the shooting did not pose a national security risk, as officials confirmed the Women’s World Cup opening ceremony and first game would go ahead as planned.
In a statement, FIFA said it extended “its deepest condolences to the families and friends of the victims”.
“FIFA has been informed that this was an isolated incident that was not related to football operations and the opening match tonight at Eden Park will proceed as planned,” the statement added.
However plans to show the match on a big screen at a fanzone in downtown Auckland were scrapped “out of deep respect to those who lost their lives,” the mayor’s office and Auckland Council said in a statement. The fan festival will open from midday Friday, the statement added.
Tourism New Zealand also canceled a welcome event scheduled for the opening match because the location is within the area cordoned off by police as they investigate the shooting.
The central business district in Auckland is the commercial heart of the city, a base for blue chip international firms and the gateway to the famous harborside, which is lined with restaurants and bars and home to the main ferry terminal.
Shootings are relatively rare in New Zealand, especially following the introduction of strict gun laws in 2019 after a mass shooting in Christchurch left 50 people dead and led to strict new laws curbing firearms being passed in a matter of days.
Officials have asked people to avoid the city center.
Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown told New Zealand public radio RNZ the shooting was a “dreadful thing to happen in our city at a time when the rest of the world’s watching us over the football.”
New Zealand will face Norway at Eden Park in the opening match on Thursday in one of the world’s biggest sporting events, co-hosted by New Zealand and neighbor Australia.
Players from the United States women’s national soccer team (USWNT) also addressed the shooting at their inaugural press conference.
“Unfortunately in the US I feel like we’ve dealt with this far too many times,” forward Lynn Williams told reporters.
Looking over the cordon, Nisha, an American tourist who had traveled to Auckland to watch the World Cup, described the shooting to CNN as “incredibly tragic… especially at the start of the World Cup, there’s so many people coming in, there’s so much excitement.”
Nisha, who declined having her surname published, said news of the shooting surprised her.
“In places like New Zealand, you just assume a level of sort of safety, right?” she said.
Standing at the edge of the cordon on Quay Street a block away from the ferry pier, 21 year-old Seth Kruger, who is originally from South Africa, expressed shock at the shooting.
“I reckon it’s a pretty rare occurrence for New Zealand, he said. “Moving here, you move here for safety reasons. So pretty weird for this to be happening just down the road from home as well.”
Kruger and his friend David Aguillon were scheduled to work at The Cloud, a multipurpose event space at the Queen’s Wharf along the Auckland waterfront, which is hosting the FIFA Fan Festival throughout the World Cup.
However, with the police continuing to cordon off several key streets, Aguillon said they hadn’t been able to get on site, and it was unclear whether the Fan Festival would be open in time for Monday’s first game.
In a statement, US Soccer said that it “extends its deepest condolences to the families of the victims who were killed in downtown Auckland today.”
In a statement, New Zealand Football said it was “shocked” by the incident. “We can confirm that all of the Football Ferns team and staff are safe but we will not be able to comment further while details are still emerging,” a statement said. “Preparations for the game tonight at Eden Park will continue as planned.”