Christchurch terror attack survivor remembers the horror three months on

A survivor of the Christchurch terror attack who spent six weeks in hospital says he is “hopeful” for the future, as the Muslim community marks three months since the shooting.

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Fifty-one people died as a gunman opened fire at two mosques on March 15. Source: 1 NEWS

Fifty-one people died as a gunman opened fire at two mosques on March 15, making it the worst mass shooting in New Zealand's history.

Sheikh Hasan Rubel was shot three times inside the Al Noor Mosque on Deans Ave, suffering injuries to his stomach, legs and feet and spent six weeks in hospital.

He spoke to 1 NEWS from his home today to reflect on the new reality faced by many victims.

“There are some mental things but we have to face those things bravely, because whenever I think about this incident, I just want to imagine like it's a single incident, it could happen anywhere,” he says.

Mr Rubel was praying in the mosque when the gunman entered and says he saw a spark and initially thought there had been an electrical short circuit.

He started to run as the terrorist entered the main room and found himself stuck on the right hand side, pushed up against his brothers. He soon became trapped underneath a pile of other men as the shooting continued.

“I was so scared, I would try to close my eyes,” he recalled.

“It's a pile of people and I saw like on the top of me some people bleeding, they got a bullet in the head.”

The only defence left was to close his eyes and pretend he was dead, trying to “ignore this thing, like I was dreaming.”

“One of the main guys from Bangladesh, he entered the main hall, and I was underneath so many people. I waved my hand, I was crying, and I said ‘I'm here, I'm here, can you please pull me, pull me out’,” Mr Rubel said.

He was the second person be taken to hospital in an ambulance, with a bullet wound to his foot and two bullets in his hip.

One had damaged his lower intestine while another had damaged some of the bones in his pelvis.

A piece of a bullet remains inside his body despite several surgeries, with doctors yet to decide whether it is too close to his spine for an operation.

The Bangladeshi spent six weeks in hospital but has since returned home to recover and join his wife, Afsana, and their two year old daughter Arveen. Afsana is pregnant with their second child and due to give birth in August.

“I can put 60 per cent of the weight in the foot, so I have to take help from the crutches” he says.

“The main problem is I can't carry any weight I can't lift any heavy things, so that is important, I can't carry my daughter.”

Mr Rubel has since returned to the Al Noor mosque for prayer but admits it’s difficult to return after the horror he endured.

“I saw their faces and it comes back sometimes you know,” he says.

“I feel scared sometimes, I know I shouldn't be but even this Friday I went and even during the prayer I was crying I was feeling really sad, feeling even know, you know, someone can come.”

Mr Rubel is an example of the hard work carried by many doctors and surgeons at Christchurch hospitals in the aftermath of the attack.

While only one person remains in hospital three months on from the attack, new figures released by the Canterbury District Health Board show the enormous toll it took.

Of the 48 people resuscitated in the emergency department, 47 survived. That was thanks to 90 operating sessions, many of which involved multiple surgeries, with the DHB providing more than 20,000 hours of ward and nursing care.

CDHB chief of surgeries Greg Robertson says there’s a long road ahead for many.

“We expect somewhere between 10 and 15 people, at a minimum, to require further intervention but that really is an estimate on everything going well,” he says.

The harder toll to measure is the mental one, with the psychological impacts expected to be felt for years to come.

Len Peneha, who lives next door to Al Noor mosque, is one of those still recovering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD.

He helped to save five people during the shooting, pulling some over a wall, and later saw a young woman being shot at close range.

He says he’s since been given free counselling and it’s helping him move through the trauma.

“They've been helping me work out techniques on how to actually reduce the risks of having panic attacks, helping me with understanding why I can't sleep and giving me some techniques to help me sleep better,” he says.

“I'm a lot happier now, I'm a lot more energetic, I even get up in the morning - this is good.”

That hope is echoed by Sheikh Hasan Rubel, who says the response from across the country has helped to lift his spirits.

“The way New Zealand has reacted, that's amazing,” he says.

“I think with this incident, New Zealand came together, I think the bond is stronger, stronger now.”

His bravery will still be needed for a long time to come, as he heals scars both inside and out.