The first reports about mass shootings at mosques in Christchurch started emerging at around 3:00 p.m. local time on Friday (02:00 GMT).
The Radio New Zealand reported, citing eyewitnesses, that a man wearing a helmet, glasses and an army-style jacket opened automatic fire in a mosque with an estimated 300 people inside.
Following the incident, The Stuff news portal reported that a Christchurch hospital was expecting to receive from 40 to 50 people injured in the shootings.
Media later reported that not one but two mosques had been attacked. There have been reports about another shooting that took place at a local hospital, but they have not been confirmed so far.
Meanwhile, New Zealand's police confirmed the reports about multiple fatalities at two mosques and said that one individual was in custody.
"We have one person in custody but we are unsure if there are other people. Multiple fatalities are, as far as we know, at two locations — a mosque at Deans Ave and another mosque at Linwood Ave, Christchurch," Commissioner Mike Bush said in a video statement posted by police on Facebook.
The police also advised local residents to stay away from mosques until further notice.
"At this stage, we will not be discussing the offenders' possible motivations or the causes of this incident. We have asked all mosques nationally to shut their doors, and advise that people refrain from visiting these premises until further notice," the police tweeted.
This terrorist in the picture carried out a horrific terrorist act targeting mosques in New Zealand and 49 person were killed while they were praying!— هاجوغتى ➿ (@HagarHa24394291) March 15, 2019
Terrorist broadcasted the massacre that took place in a mosque in Christchurch Live during Friday prayers on Facebook for 15 min pic.twitter.com/h5DFFsTqEj
One of New Zealand's Darkest Days
The country's prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, immediately held a press conference, where she referred to the incident as "one of New Zealand's darkest days" and an "unprecedented act of violence."
"What has happened in Christchurch is an extraordinary act of unprecedented violence. It has no place in New Zealand. Many of those affected will be members of our migrant communities – New Zealand is their home – they are us," the prime minister later tweeted.
Moreover, Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel said she was "shocked beyond words" by the shootings.
"I would never have expected anything like this to happen in Christchurch, I'd never expect this to happen in New Zealand," Dalziel said, as quoted by the Stuff news outlet.
After the police said that one person had been detained following the attacks, the New Zealand Herald reported that one shooting was perpetrated by an Australian citizen, who had published a 37-page manifesto detailing his intentions. According to media reports, the attacker also live streamed one of the shootings, and the police promptly urged users not to share the link to the video.
"Police are aware there is extremely distressing footage relating to the incident in Christchurch circulating online. We would strongly urge that the link not be shared. We are working to have any footage removed," the police tweeted.
The 1 NEWS broadcaster reported, citing an Australian police source, that the shooter was Brenton Tarrant from the city of Grafton in Australia's eastern New South Wales state.
Shortly after reports, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has confirmed that a man detained as one of the suspects in the deadly mass shootings was indeed an Australian citizen.
"I can confirm that the individual who was taken into custody… is an Australian-born citizen," Morrison said at a press conference, aired at Periscope.
Meanwhile, police said later that not one but a total of four people, three men and a woman, were in custody following an "active shooter situation" at two mosques, and more could be still at large.
"We have four people in custody. But we cannot assume there are no others at large," Commissioner Mike Bush told reporters.
The 1 NEWS broadcaster added that one man arrested by the police had been apprehended outside one of the local high schools.
"Police can now confirm the lockdown of schools throughout Christchurch has been lifted," the police said in a statement.
Bush later stated that a number of improvised explosive devices, which had been attached to vehicles, had been defused after the shootings.
"There were a number of IEDs attached to the vehicles that we also stopped. They've been made safe by the defence force," Bush told reporters.
The commissioner also said that one of the four detained people had already been charged with murder, and another one was not implicated in the crime at all.
"One person a male in his late 20s has been charged with murder and should appear in the Christchurch Court tomorrow morning. Three other people were apprehended… one had nothing to do with this incident… Two are still under investigation," Bush said at a briefing aired by the New Zealand Herald.
Dozens of Victims and Injured
At the same time, the Canterbury District Health Board said that at least 48 people, including little children, were being treated at the Christchurch Hospital.
"Forty-eight patients, ranging from young children to adults with gunshot wounds are being treated at Christchurch Hospital. Injuries range from critical to minor. Additional patients with gunshot wounds presented to other health facilities in the community," the health authority said.
The Russian Embassy in New Zealand said that preliminary inquiry showed that there were no Russian citizens among the victims of the mass shootings, adding that further details were being clarified.