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New Zealand gunman kills 2 people on the eve of the Women's World Cup

An armed New Zealand police officer stands at a road block in the central business district following a shooting in Auckland, New Zealand, Thursday, July 20, 2023. New Zealand police are responding to reports that a gunman has fired shots in a building in downtown Auckland.
Abbie Parr
/
AP
An armed New Zealand police officer stands at a road block in the central business district following a shooting in Auckland, New Zealand, Thursday, July 20, 2023. New Zealand police are responding to reports that a gunman has fired shots in a building in downtown Auckland.

Updated July 19, 2023 at 9:00 PM ET

AUCKLAND, New Zealand — A gunman killed two people at a downtown construction site in New Zealand's largest city of Auckland on Thursday, as the nation prepared to host games in the FIFA Women's World Cup tournament. Authorities said the shooter was also dead.

Authorities said six other people, including at least one police officer, were injured during the shooting, which took place near hotels where Team Norway and other soccer teams have been staying.

New Zealand Prime Minster Chris Hipkins said the tournament would go ahead as planned.

"Clearly with the FIFA World Cup kicking off this evening, there are a lot of eyes on Auckland," Hipkins said. "The government has spoken to FIFA organizers this morning and the tournament will proceed as planned."

"I want to reiterate that there is no wider national security threat. This appears to be the action of one individual."

Hipkins said the shooter was armed with a pump-action shotgun. Police arrived one minute after the first emergency call and had run into harm's way to save lives, he said.

"These kinds of situations move fast and the actions of those who risk their lives to save others are nothing short of heroic," Hipkins said.

Acting Police Superintendent Sunny Patel said the man began shooting at the site on lower Queen Street at about 7:20 a.m. Police swarmed the area.

The man moved through the building, firing at people there, Patel said.

"Upon reaching the upper levels of the building, the male has contained himself within the elevator shaft and our staff have attempted to engage with him," Patel said in a statement. "Further shots were fired from the male and he was located deceased a short time later."

It wasn't immediately clear if police shot the gunman or he killed himself.

Outside, armed police officers had the commercial business district on heavy lockdown with streets cordoned off surrounding the tourist harbor ferry terminal area. Police demanded bystanders disperse and ordered people inside their office buildings to shelter in place.

The incident comes as soccer teams and fans gathered in New Zealand for the FIFA Women's World Cup. The opening match is scheduled for Thursday between New Zealand and Norway.

Team Norway captain Maren Mjelde said team players woke up quickly when a helicopter began hovering outside the hotel window.

"We felt safe the whole time," she said in a statement. "FIFA has a good security system at the hotel, and we have our own security officer in the squad. Everyone seems calm and we are preparing as normal for the game tonight."

Team USA said all its players and staff were accounted for and safe. It said the team was in communication with local authorities and proceeding with its daily schedule.

New Zealand banned assault weapons in 2019, weeks after a gunman slaughtered 51 people at two mosques in the city of Christchurch during the nation's worst mass shooting.

A subsequent buyback scheme saw gun owners hand over more than 50,000 AR-15-style rifles and other assault weapons to police.

The ban does not include all semi-automatic weapons. Hipkins said it wasn't immediately clear if the weapon the gunman used would have been covered by the ban.

Officials at Eden Park, where the opening match is taking place, said they were encouraging ticket holders to arrive early and there would be an increased security presence at the venue.

Tourism New Zealand canceled a media welcome party, which was scheduled to be held Thursday afternoon at a location within the cordoned-off area.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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The Associated Press