Women’s World Cup kicks off with host nations in opening games

Women’s World Cup kicks off with host nations in opening games

At least two people were killed and five others were injured after a gunman stormed into a building under construction in Auckland, New Zealand, in the early hours of Thursday, hours before the start of the city’s first Women’s World Cup football match.

The gunman was later killed, police said at a press conference on Thursday afternoon. They also said that a police officer was among the injured; he was taken to a hospital in critical condition, and his condition had stabilized.

Authorities have not identified the shooter, but police said he was 24 years old and worked at the construction site where the shooting took place.

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said the shooter’s motive is believed to be “linked to his work at the scene”. He was under house arrest but allowed to be at the construction site. He was known to police because he had a history of domestic violence, Coster said, adding that there were also “some indications of a mental health history.”

He did not have a firearms license for the shotgun he used, officials said.

The New Zealand Herald also reported that he appeared before a local court in March on charges of assaulting a woman and injuring with intent to injure, and was ordered to wear an electronic monitoring anklet.

Police officers standing guard near a construction site following a shooting at that site in Auckland, New Zealand, on Thursday.Credit…David Rowland/Reuters

The shooting took place as the New Zealand and Norwegian teams were scheduled to play at 7 pm local time at Eden Park Stadium, about three miles from the site of the shooting. Several World Cup teams and many supporters are staying in Auckland’s central business district, and the shooting took place very close to the Norwegian team’s hotel and close to a supporters festival organized for the tournament.

The US team, which will play its tournament debut in Auckland against Vietnam in two days, is also based in the region. Both the Norwegian and US teams said their players and staff were safe and preparations would continue as normal.

New Zealand’s match against Norway on Thursday night began on a somber note: a moment of silence for the victims of the shooting. Players from both teams gathered at midfield, and the New Zealand reserves and coaching staff left their dugout to stand on the touchline in solidarity.

A minute of silence will also be observed for the match between Australia and Ireland on Thursday night, FIFA said in a statement.

New Zealand police began receiving reports of a person firing a gun inside the construction site around 7:22 am local time, Coster said.

Police said that after a gunman entered the building – which was occupied by dozens of construction workers – at the bottom of Queen Street, he opened fire on the third floor and fought his way through the 21-story building, firing as he went.

Bystanders and passengers heard the burst of gunfire during the morning rush hour. Armed police and vehicles swarmed into the area, and authorities closed off parts of the city.

The shooting took place in a busy city center filled with office buildings and hotels across the street from a ferry terminal on the edge of town.

New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins told a news conference the gunman was armed with a shotgun and appeared to have acted alone.

Members of the Philippines Women’s World Cup team in Auckland on Thursday. New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said the Women’s World Cup would go ahead as planned.Credit…Abbie Parr/Associated Press

Within minutes, dozens of police armed with automatic weapons arrived on the scene, warning people to take cover and ushering them out of the area. Streets were closed for a two-block area and a police helicopter was flying overhead. The officers pursued the gunman to the upper floors, and once there, there was an exchange of fire – audible in the street below the tower.

Police confronted the gunman in an elevator shaft where he had barricaded himself and tried to attack him, police said.

“The assailant fired at the police, wounding an officer,” police said. “Shots were exchanged and the assailant was later found dead.”

Coster said he wasn’t sure if the gunman had been killed by police.

The construction workers, many of whom hid in the building during the shooting, were released hours later and police evacuated the building.

Mr. Hipkins said the Women’s World Cup would go ahead as planned. FIFA, football’s global governing body and organizer of the tournament, said its top leaders had communicated with New Zealand authorities and that the organization was “in constant contact with participating teams affected by this incident”.

At a second press conference on Thursday afternoon, he said authorities would conduct a review of the suspect’s treatment while he was under house arrest and whether there were any red flags about his behavior.

Asked whether the attack showed a flaw in New Zealand’s strict gun laws, he said authorities needed to investigate how the gunman obtained the firearm “before making any judgments about the robustness or otherwise of our gun laws”.

Police cordon off an area near the site of the shooting in central Auckland on Thursday.Credit…Saeed Khan/Agenzia France-Presse — Getty Images

The Norway players were all at their hotel during the shootout; some were still asleep, but local news reports said some had gone down to breakfast in a dining room off the ground-floor lobby. As police closed off access to the area around the shooting, security asked members of the Norwegian delegation to remain inside the hotel, according to Lise Klaveness, president of the Norwegian football federation.

“All is calm in the Norwegian national team,” Halvor Lea, spokesman for the Norwegian women’s national team, said in a statement. “Preparations are going as normal.”

In a separate statement, Maren Mjelde, captain of the Norwegian team, said many players were likely woken up by the sound of a helicopter outside and the emergency vehicles that arrived in front.

“We felt safe the entire time,” she said.

It was the first major shooting in New Zealand since the country banned most semi-automatic rifles in 2019 after 51 people were killed when a white supremacist opened fire on Muslims praying at two mosques in Christchurch.

Days after that shooting, Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister at the time, announced a temporary ban on most semi-automatic weapons, and a month-long gun buyback and amnesty program began. Later that year, a broad nationwide ban took effect.

Even before that, gun ownership was relatively rare in New Zealand, and gun violence is considered uncommon. But in 1997, six people were killed and four others were injured in the North Island town of Raurimu.

And in 1990, a gunman in the small coastal town of Aramoana killed 13 people and wounded three others before being shot dead by police. The shootings led to a 1992 amendment to regulations on military-style semi-automatic weapons.

Juliet Macur It is André Das reported from Auckland, New Zealand, and Yan Zhuang from Sydney, Australia. Tariq Panja contributed reports from Sydney, Australia.

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