To those in the Crossroads, the New Zealand city of Christchurch seemed the least likely place for a hate-motivated shooting that claimed 49 lives.

“I would have never thought this would have happened to a place as tranquil ... as New Zealand,” said Victoria resident Patrick J. Kennedy, who visited Christchurch, New Zealand, after earthquakes there in 2010. “What the heck is going on in the world?”

About 7:40 p.m. CDT Thursday, two coordinated terror attacks linked to white-supremacist motivations resulted in at least 49 people killed and 40 others injured at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Half a world away, that violence shocked Crossroads residents, prompting important but painful reflections.

“Even those parts of the world that we might believe are safe and secure are nevertheless subject to the virus of hate and intolerance,” said the Rev. James DeMent, who leads First Presbyterian Church, a Victoria church of about 120 members.

For Kennedy, New Zealand and its people bring memories of serenity, kindness and natural beauty, which is hardly done justice by the blockbuster “Lord of the Rings” film series, he said. During his time in the country, Kennedy said he never witnessed prejudice or hatred. Instead, he described the residents as laid back and understanding.

“They didn’t seem to have the other major concerns of the world – until now,” he said. “That just tells me it can happen anywhere.”

For Omar Rachid, president of the Victoria Islamic Center, the revelation that the 49 killed were the result of anti-Muslim prejudice was one he was altogether too familiar with. In 2017, the Victoria mosque in which he practiced his faith was razed by a local man. That man’s violence was also determined to be the product of anti-Muslim hate.

”Yesterday, I was at home. I saw it come across the television as breaking news,” he said, adding, “My heart just ached right away, and even now I’m just really emotional. No one, regardless of their religion, ... should be subjected to such an act of violence.”

After the 2017 arson and other acts of hate-motivated violence in the U.S., especially a 2018 shooting that killed 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue, Rachid and other Victoria Islamic Center members upgraded security at their place of worship. After all, he said, hate-motivated violence against religious minorities is a fact of life now.

“Some people are driven by hate, and they have lost their moral fiber,” he said. “These are the kinds of results that we should anticipate.”

But those changes represent only part of the solution to a much more insidious problem, Rachid said. Public officials and elected leaders need to speak out, rather than remain silent or even support such acts, he said.

Australian Senator Fraser Anning was publicly and widely criticized after he tweeted, “Does anyone still dispute the link between Muslim immigration and violence?”

“We need to condemn these acts with the highest degree,” Rachid said, adding, “We can quit the spiral downward.”

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Jon Wilcox reports on courts for the Victoria Advocate. He may be reached jwilcox@vicad.com or 361-580-6515.

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Jon covers crime, public safety and the courts at the Victoria Advocate. Born in Huntsville, Ala., he grew up in Atlanta, Ga. and obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism at Texas State University.

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