World

Bodies returning to NZ victims’ families

By AAP Newswire

The bodies of those killed in New Zealand's worst shooting massacre will soon be returned to their grieving families for burial.

Two days after 50 people were killed in an act of terror at two mosques in Christchurch, coroners on Sunday said they hoped to shortly release the first remains to relatives.

Officials earlier announced the death toll from the attack - allegedly carried out by sole Australian gunman Brenton Tarrant - had risen following the discovery of another body, and since have confirmed the victims were aged from three to 77.

A dozen more who were injured in Friday's attack remained in critical condition, including a young child, and families throughout the day streamed towards the city's hospital.

As the city's Muslim community began preparing for funerals, with heavy machinery used to dig graves at a site in the city's east and the names of victims emerging, concern was expressed over the time taken to process remains, which has prevented the swift burials called for under Islamic tradition.

"Those family members who require the grieving, their grieving process isn't beginning," said Javed Dadabhai, who lost his cousin and came from Auckland to help organise the funerals.

"But we need to give [authorities] all the time they need for investigations ... We wouldn't want to think that because some pressure or haste from our community that we're going to put the police in a situation they'll regret later."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told reporters it was expected all the bodies would be released by Wednesday, while Police Commissioner Mike Bush said time was needed to confirm identities and causes of death.

"We are so aware of the cultural and religious needs," he said.

"So we are doing that as quickly and as sensitively as possible."

An outpouring of grief across the nation continued on Sunday as an estimated 11,000 people turned out for a vigil in Wellington, while Ardern attended a wreath-laying at a mosque in the capital.

Flowers continued to pile up around mosques, which remain heavily guarded.

In Christchurch, hundreds in the afternoon continued to flow past memorials, leaving flowers, praying and crying.

Denise and Craig Tomlinson drove across the region to lay flowers near where the first gunfire broke out.

"We're not so isolated as we thought we were," Mr Tomlinson said.

At a centre near Hagley Park, just minutes from where gunfire first broke out, members of the Muslim community gathered again on Sunday, describing their lost friends and family, while others sought information about those still missing.

"His father, his wife, his family are waiting for confirmation that his body has been found ... That's all we want," immigration advisor Kaniz Fatima Lima said of her friend Zakana Bhuiyan, who has not appeared on preliminary lists of victims.

"Pray for him."

More stories of heroism have also emerged since.

Abdul Aziz, 48, has been applauded after it emerged he managed to scare the shooter away from the Linwood mosque to protect dozens inside, including his four sons.

Meanwhile, authorities have confirmed Tarrant, who is from Grafton in NSW and had been living in Dunedin, is so far the only person charged over the attack, others arrested now thought to be not involved.

"He will certainly face the justice system of New Zealand for the terrorist attack that he has committed here," Ardern told reporters.

Tarrant - who will return to court in April - was not on any watchlist in Australia or New Zealand and Ardern's cabinet is expected to discuss the matter along with changes to gun laws.

His family on Sunday apologised.

"It's just so much of everything to take in that somebody in our family would do anything like this," Tarrant's 81-year-old grandmother, Marie Fitzgerald, said, adding that he was "obviously not of sound mind".

"We are so sorry for the families over there, for the dead and the injured," Tarrant's uncle Terry Fitzgerald told Nine News in Grafton, the accused's home town.

While cordons remained in place on Sunday, police are expecting many Christchurch residents to return to their daily lives on Monday - albeit it with a continuing security presence.

"Christchurch will notice that police are highly visible - on the streets, around businesses, schools, and in the air," Bush said.