Sumbul Kiyani and Roaa Ramadan watch a slide show of the 50 victims killed in a mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand at UBC Okanagan Campus March 18. Sydney Morton/ Capital News

‘The whole city has changed’: Kelowna woman in New Zealand reacts to mosque attacks

An expatriate and Muslim students at UBC Okanagan deeply affected by white supremacist shooting

It was something Carina Reiss, nor the country she now calls home, could not prepare for.

A Kelowna expatriate, Reiss lives in Christchurch, New Zealand, in-between the two mosques that 18-year-old Brenton Tarrant stormed into while live-streaming killing 50 worshipers and injuring 50 more.

The gun’s equipment was decorated with the names of white supremacists in white paint, including the name of Alexandre Bissonnette, who opened fire in a mosque in Quebec and killed six men on Jan. 29, 2017.

“It’s been pretty horrible the past few days, the whole city has changed, no one is talking to each other, you can sense it in the city,” said Reiss.

“It’s a pretty horrible thought that an absolute stranger can come here and do this.”

READ MORE: Mass shootings at New Zealand mosques kill 49; 1 man charged

READ MORE: New Zealand mosque shooter brandished white supremacist iconography

Reiss said that there are flowers lining the perimeter for the mosques.

Her partner, who is in the military, called her during the shooting and told her to “get down, don’t answer the door.” Reiss and her housemates barricaded themselves inside and watched the news to stay updated on the situation.

“There’s nothing that can prepare you for this, this isn’t normal in our western society,” said Reiss.

At UBC Okanagan, the Muslim Students’ Association held a vigil in the UNC Building that included tear-filled speeches from students and a ceremonial Haka dance by a student from New Zealand.

Roaa Ramadan, a third-year nursing student, stood in front of a crowd with tears streaming down her face while she shared that her mom sent her a text about what to do if she was ever in a situation with an active shooter.

READ MORE: When gunman advanced on New Zealand mosque, 1 man ran at him

READ MORE: B.C. police step up patrols at mosques after New Zealand shooting massacre

“I am so tired of defending my faith and trying to show people that I am a normal person, I am tired of feeling upset all of the time. I am tired of it all, I just want to live my life. The irony of it all is, I’m a student and in a year from now I am going to be a nurse and I would never deny someone care because of who they are,” said Ramadan.

“Being able to share my experience (at the vigil) and tell them how we feel and how they can support us, and be allies to us, it sheds light on the human experience, and that these are not just things you see in textbooks. These are real people experiencing this, it’s just being able to humanize it more.”

Second-year student, Sumbul Kiyani helped the president of the Muslim Students’ Association, Sumayia Abedin organize the event. Kiyani grew up in Connecticut, U.S. and said that she regularly thinks about what she would do if she was in a mosque during a shooting.

READ MORE: Defiant vigil starts healing in New Zealand after massacre

READ MORE: Facebook, other tech companies scramble to remove New Zealand shooting video

“When I heard about the shooting the first thing I thought about was what if I was there with my family. Friday prayers are a family ordeal, there are kids running around, friends getting together,” said Kiyani.

“Seeing events like this today it gives me an ounce of hope (for change)… I find myself justifying my religion to my non-Muslim friends.”

The vigil ended with two prayers in Arabic that were translated into English so everyone in the room could participate and understand.

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