A gunman killed two people and wounded six others at a building site in central Auckland Thursday, hours before New Zealand’s biggest city was to host the opening match of the 2023 FIFA football World Cup.
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said the gunman died at the scene and there was no national security threat, so the marquee tournament would go ahead as planned.
The still-unnamed 24-year-old shooter tore through the waterfront property with a shotgun in the early morning, plunging the busy centre of New Zealand’s largest city into lockdown.
A police officer was said to be among those seriously injured and rushed to hospital. His condition was said to be stable.
Little is known about the motive of the attack, but it is not believed to be directly linked to the World Cup or to have been politically or ideologically motivated.
But the gunman was known to police and said to have had a history of family violence and mental health issues.
Police said he had been subject to a home detention order but had an exemption to work at the site. He did not have a license to own a firearm.
Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said there was “nothing to suggest he presented a higher-level risk”.
Prime Minister Hipkins expressed shock and “deep sorrow” at the rare mass shooting in New Zealand.
But he insisted the World Cup, which is being co-hosted by New Zealand and Australia, would go ahead.
“Aucklanders and those watching around the world can be assured that the police have neutralised the threat and that they are not seeking anyone else in relation to the incident,” he said.
The “assessment from officials is that there is no national security risk. There is no change to New Zealand’s national security threat level,” he added.
“The government has spoken to FIFA organisers and the tournament will proceed,” Hipkins said. “New Zealanders’ safety, and the safety of our visitors, are our first priorities.”
At least three national soccer teams are based near the shooting, including the reigning champion United States squad, which said all its players and staff were accounted for and safe.
Norway’s team hotel was a few hundred metres from where the shooting unfolded.
Captain Maren Mjelde said players were woken up by a helicopter and “a large number of emergency vehicles”. The team will face hosts New Zealand later in the day.
“Everyone seems calm and we are preparing as normal for the game tonight. Then we may have to adapt if there are any instructions from the authorities,” she said.
Norway will take on hosts New Zealand at the city’s Eden Park after Thursday’s opening ceremony.
Aucklanders had circled today’s date as the start of a month-long festival of football that would showcase their city and country to the world.
Instead, they were woken by the sound of police sirens and helicopters thudding overhead.
Police Commissioner Coster said it was a “shocking and traumatic event for those people who came to work and found themselves in the middle of an armed emergency”.
Coster said armed police had quickly tracked down the gunman to a lift shaft at the site, where he had barricaded himself.
“The offender fired at police, injuring an officer. Shots were exchanged and the offender was later found deceased,” Coster added.
“Tragically, police located two members of the public deceased on the lower levels of the building site.”
In addition to the injured police officer, Coster said five members of the public were wounded in the incident.
He reassured match-goers and the general public that they could travel in safety to the city centre and Eden Park stadium for the World Cup kick-off game.
Shootings with multiple deaths are rare in New Zealand and sweeping gun laws were introduced after the 2019 Christchurch mosque massacre, in which 51 Muslim worshippers were killed and another 40 wounded.