On Friday evening, after the horror unfolded in Christchurch, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stood resolute behind a lectern, and looked into the ring of cameras trained on her. She calmly, firmly delivered the facts. Dozens had been killed and injured in a targeted massacre on two mosques near the city centre. Three suspects were in custody, including an Australian.
“These are people who I would describe as having extremist views that have absolutely no place in New Zealand, and in fact have no place in the world,” she said.
Prime Minister Ardern had no reservations in calling it what it was: a terrorist attack.
Less than 24 hours later, the toll by then at 49, she was on the ground in Christchurch, wrapping her arms around mourners. Wearing a black headscarf as a sign of respect, she spoke to the hundreds of members of the local Muslim community at Canterbury Refugee Centre and Hagley College.
According to Sarah Ahmed, a local who was present at the college on Saturday morning, the Labour leader stayed for close to an hour.
Respect for Jacinda Ardern who pays homage to muslim community in traditional attire to show solidarity with the muslims in New Zealand.@jacindaardern #jacindaardern #Christchurch #NewZealandTerroristAttack #NewZealandShooting #ChristchurchAttack # pic.twitter.com/0AhKK2DM8u
— Yassir Hasnat (@YassirHasnat) March 16, 2019
“She was engaged, she was concerned, she knew what to say. She is the Prime Minister of New Zealand, but they felt she was there with them and that nobody else mattered,” she told The Sydney Morning Herald.
That’s what a leader looks like.
This strikingly unique blend of resolve and genuine compassion is what has stood Prime Minister Ardern apart in times of crisis.
We’ve seen it before, with the murder of 21-year-old British backpacker Grace Millane in December 2018. After it was confirmed a 27-year-old local man had been charged with her murder, Prime Minister Ardern faced the world’s cameras and apologised. “On behalf of New Zealand, I want to apologise to Grace’s family,” she said. “Your daughter was supposed to be safe here and she wasn’t.”
Though so distant from the tragedy, she felt its weight.