Brenton Tarrant has admitted carrying out the worst mass shooting in New Zealand's history—and he could receive the harshest sentence the country has imposed since it abolished the death penalty decades ago. The 29-year-old Australian appeared in a Christchurch court Monday on the first day of a four-day sentencing hearing. He has pleaded guilty to 51 counts of murder, 40 counts of attempted murder, and one count of terrorism in connection with shootings at two mosques in the city last year, and could become the first person in New Zealand history sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole, the BBC reports. The court heard that Tarrant had planned to attack a third mosque and intended to burn down all three buildings to "inflict as many casualties as possible." The youngest victim was 3 years old.
Tarrant's detailed plan of attack, which included flying a drone over one of the mosques three months prior to the attack as part of his planning, was read aloud in court after Justice Cameron Mander warned that it would be "distressing," reports the New Zealand Herald. During the hearing, Tarrant, who expressed white supremacist beliefs online, was confronted by survivors of the March 15, 2019, attack and some of those who lost relatives. "I weep every day for him and for my family’s loss," Janna Ezat, mother of Hussein Al-Umari, 35, told the court. "I decided to forgive you, Mr. Tarrant, because I don’t have hate, I don’t have revenge," she said, per the Washington Post. Temel Atacocugu, who was shot nine times, described lying under a pile of bodies in the Al Noor Mosque. "I could feel the blood and brains of the person upon me running down my face and neck. I couldn't move or make a sound as the gunman would have executed me as he did the others." (More Brenton Tarrant stories.)