Mark Baker
A women places flowers at a makeshift memorial near the Masjid Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, Saturday, March 16, 2019, where one of the mass shootings occurred yesterday. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

HERRIMAN — The news came in phone calls from relatives reeling from the news that a mass shooter had killed 49 people and wounded dozens of others in Christchurch, New Zealand, and it was especially shocking and unsettling for those living in Utah, far from their island homes.

“It is (hard to be so far from home during a tragedy) because we’re only a small country,” said Alf Daniels of the Utah Warriors. “When disaster strikes, whether that’s a shooting or the earthquakes, when anything happens, the whole country feels it. Not to be there to offer support to family, friends and the local people, it’s very tough for a little country.”

The country, made up of two main islands surrounded by hundreds of smaller islands located nearly 1,200 miles east of Australia, is home to just 5 million people. That means, even those like Daniels and Warriors player/assistant coach James Semple feel something like this acutely, despite the distance.

“It makes you miss home a bit more,” Semple said, noting these types of incidents are unheard of in his home country. “You want to be around your loved ones. … It’s such a peaceful country. It’s very small, very safe. And guns especially are quite hard to come by. You have to have a licence, and you’ve got to go through training, so that brings down the amount of guns and shootings.”

He said the worst shooting he'd previously heard about was a man who killed four or five people in one town several years ago. The most deadly in recent history was in Aramoana, where a man shot 13 people before being killed by police in 1990. That incident sparked massive changes to gun laws in New Zealand.

"It's very odd, one person shooting through anger, a mass shooting," Semple said. "It's very rare, and I can't remember any other time it's happened."

But it isn’t just the use of guns that makes it hard to believe, it’s everything about the tragedy, including the fact that religious and racial bigotry appear to be the cause of the shooting that occurred at two mosques in Christchurch.

“To be honest, there is really no religious tension at all in New Zealand,” Daniels said. “We’re a sports-crazy, happy people, who just celebrate anything that’s good and fun. People respect each other for their religion. So for something like that to happen, it’s huge; it’s massive for the country.”

Both men are from the same town, Hamilton, which is on the North Island, while Christchurch is on the South Island.

The two watched a match played in New Zealand Thursday night, and noticed the teams circle up in the center of the field as a show of solidarity, as they held a moment of silence and offered prayers for the victims and their families, as well as the heartbroken community.

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"We have quite a few players on the squad who are also from New Zealand, and we offer our support, our thoughts and our prayers to those people who've been hurt," Daniels said. "We want the rest of the world and Utah to know that New Zealand is a safe and beautiful country."

Daniels, who has two adult children and four grandchildren living in Hamilton, said the tragic reality is that there is no place immune to this kind of hatred and violence anymore.

“We’re at the bottom of the world in the middle of nowhere,” said Utah Warriors head coach Alf Daniels. “If it can happen in New Zealand, there is no place in this world that is safe right now.”