Two people have been killed and five others wounded in a shooting just hours before the opening match of the women's football World Cup in the city.
The gunman, believed to be a 24-year-old construction worker, was armed with a pump-action shotgun and moved through the building site they worked at, firing shots. After reaching the upper levels he contained himself within a lift shaft was was involved in a shootout with police before being found dead a short time later.
A police officer was injured in the shooting, as well as four members of the public. Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said the whole nation was mourning the deaths and described the two injured police officers as heroes.
“The victims went to work this morning as they do every morning, but they won’t be coming home tonight,” he said.
New Zealand’s largest city has welcomed thousands of international players and tourists for the ninth Women's World Cup which is being co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand.
“People should feel safe while out and about in Auckland,” Mr Hipkins said in the wake of the shooting. “There will be an increased police presence obviously around Auckland to provide public reassurance”.
"There was no identified political or ideological motivation for the shooting and therefore no national security risk," Mr Hipkins said. There will be no change to New Zealand's security threat level.
"Obviously we would prefer [the tournament] not to have started in this way... I will be going [to the opening ceremony], it is safe to go and we continue to encourage the whole community to get behind this," he said.
A bystander told local media that he was inside the building where the shooting took place and hid inside an office. “We just heard a massive gunshot, and then one of the guys walked outside the office and came running back in,” the man said. “We ran to the back of the building where I saw a bloody hard hat. We could see the guy walking around with his gun.”
Hotels hosting several World Cup teams were in the immediate vicinity of the incident. The Norway and Philippines squads were within a few streets of the incident. New Zealand, Italy and Vietnam squads were also in the city.
Italy and the US team's training was delayed as players could not get out of their hotel while the area was cordoned off. US player Lynn Williams said the incident was something she and her compatriots had dealt with "far too many times" in the United States, where gun violence is common.
"There was definitely a sense of, 'Let's come together.' We still have a job to do. But also recognising that there was lives lost and that is very real and very devastating," she said.
In the two opening World Cup matches on Thursday, New Zealand beat Norway 1-0 in Auckland while Australia later faced Ireland in Sydney.
A moment of silence was observed before the match started in Auckland, and players wore black arm bands in honour of those who died in the shooting.
Describing it as a “shocking and traumatic” event, police commissioner Andrew Coster said the gunman was did not have a licence to possess the weapon. The gunman was the subject of a sentence of home detention but had an exemption to work at the site.
"The individual is known for primarily family violence history. There is nothing to suggest that he has presented a higher-level risk than was indicated by that history," Mr Coster said.
Mr Coster said the gunman had barricaded himself in a lift shift on the third floor while Swat-type officers engaged him after securing the floors above and below.
“The offender fired at police, injuring an officer,” Mr Coster said. “Shots were exchanged and the offender was later found deceased.”
It is not yet clear if he died from a bullet discharged by police or killed himself, Mr Coster said.
Mr Coster said: “I want to acknowledge that this has been a shocking and traumatic event for those people who came to work and found themselves in the middle of an armed emergency.
“Thankfully, many people were able to escape the building, but I know for those who hid or remained trapped, this was a terrifying experience.”
Auckland mayor Wayne Brown said: “I can’t remember anything like this ever happening in our beautiful city... This morning’s events have been tragic and distressing for all Aucklanders, as this is not something that we are used to.”
“While the details of the victims have not yet been confirmed, I want to express my condolences to their families,” he added. “I also want to express sympathy for those in the construction industry and commuters who will be feeling on edge following this incident.”
Gun violence is rare in New Zealand, which tightened its gun laws after a gunman killed 51 Muslim worshippers in Christchurch in 2019 in the country's worst peace-time mass shooting.
The government has banned all military style semi-automatics and other deadly guns.
Reuters contributed to this report
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