This Colorado Family Loved Christchurch’s Innocence. The Mass Shooting Shattered That

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Photo: Delagarza Colorado Family Christchurch New Zealand
The Delagarza family in New Zealand.

When David Delagarza visited New Zealand with his family a few years ago, they fell in love.

"It’s the most beautiful place that we’ve ever seen," said Delagarza, a Colorado native.

It wasn't just the landscape that made an impression. It was also "a feeling of security" and a "certain innocence," he wrote in a recent Facebook post. The Delagarzas were so enamored that, a year and a half ago, they decamped from Colorado to their new home in New Zealand. Christchurch to be exact.

Last week, a gunman opened fire on two mosques and killed at least 50 people there. The event left Delagarza shaken.

"It’s been a rough few days. I feel like in the U.S. people are used to this sort of thing happening to a certain degree. It’s not a complete shock when something happens anymore," he said. "But here, people are just shocked. Nobody expected this sort of thing to happen in New Zealand."

Delagarza expects the "special kind of freedom" he grew accustomed to in Christchurch to change. Part of the country's appeal was seeing police officers without guns, kids running freely outside, and not having to go through security for commuter flights.

The shooting opened old wounds for Christchurch residents who endured a cataclysmic 2008 earthquake that killed 185 people, Delagarza added. And he feels echoes of the trauma that hit him after the Columbine and Aurora shootings back in Colorado.

"We moved to New Zealand and had kind of thought we’d gotten away from that sort of thing. For all the ups and downs of living here, one of the things that I continually had in mind was that, 'This is a very safe place to be,' " Delagarza said. "So to have something happen literally blocks away from where we live has been difficult."

He's visited the growing memorial of flowers and keepsakes outside one of the mosques, and he has found comfort in seeing Kiwis come together, whether it's people supporting Muslims in their community or politicians standing together on the issue of gun control.

"I feel like in the U.S. after something like this happens, people kind of retreat to their political corners. People kind of back into their pre-existing positions on gun control," Delagarza said. "Here it’s been quite interesting to see how the country has come together. You see (New Zealand's) political leaders all standing up, standing together, saying they’re going to tackle this."

The Delagarza children are still young, a 5-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter. Delagarza isn't sure how long the family will stay in New Zealand, whether it's a few more years, until the kids graduate high school or longer. But the shooting hasn't made Delagarza want to cut short his family's time there.

"If anything, it strengthens my commitment to being here," Delagarza said. "The way that I’ve seen the people of New Zealand react, the way that they’ve reacted with compassion and love, it really makes me feel like this is a community I want to be a part of."