But appearing via audio-visual link from a prison in Auckland, Tarrant pleaded guilty at all points during a hearing in Christchurch High Court on Thursday morning. He is due back in court in May. New Zealand police say Tarrant will not be sentenced until it is possible for all victims who want to attend the hearing to do so – which could be delayed by the current pandemic.
Tarrant's admission of guilt also comes just days since the anniversary of the deadly attack, which took place on March 15 last year and was New Zealand's worst mass shooting in modern history.
Guilty claim welcome
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the guilty prayer would "provide some relief to the many people whose lives were shattered" by the attacks.
"Police appreciate that this news will come as a surprise to victims and the public, some of whom may have wanted to be present in the courtroom," Bush said. The two Imams from Al Noor and the Linwood Islamic Center – the two mosques targeted in the attack – were in the courtroom to represent victims, Bush added.
"While sentencing is still pending, today's guilt prayers are a significant milestone compared to one of our darkest days," Bush said. "I want to acknowledge the victims, their families and the community in Christchurch – the many lives that have changed forever."
Ahmed Khan, who was inside the Linwood Islamic Center in Christchurch during the attack, said he heard about Tarrant's claim in an email sent by the victims' court Thursday morning.
He said the victims were worried that the trial – which was scheduled for June – would be pulled out of Tarrant so he could get extra attention.
"(People in the courtroom) were very angry and got very emotional because it seemed like the offender wasn't sorry," Khan said. "Now we hope for a good result."
The aftermath of the deadly attack
Tarrant was arrested March 15 last year, within 21 minutes of receiving the first emergency calls by police.
Almost all the victims died at Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Center. Only two later died in hospital, including a Turkish national who died in May.
The victims hailed from all over the world, including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Malaysia.