CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand — When the gunman walked into the Al Noor mosque, Temel Atacocugu was kneeling for Friday prayers.
He looked up into the man’s face, thinking he was a police officer because of his paramilitary outfit. Time slowed. Atacocugu saw a puff of smoke come from the raised gun, felt a bullet smash into his teeth, and thought, “Oh, my God, I’m dying.”
But despite being shot nine times, Atacocugu survived the attack at Al Noor, one of two mosques in the city of Christchurch that were attacked on March 15 last year, in New Zealand’s deadliest modern-day mass shooting.
On Sunday, New Zealand will commemorate the 51 people who were killed in the attacks. Atacocugu, 45, is slowly overcoming his own physical and psychological injuries from that day. And he’s even found himself ready to face a childhood fear: sharks.
On the day of the attacks, Atacocugu was in a buoyant mood when he walked into the mosque. An active man who loves soccer, fishing and running, he’d just finished his last acupuncture session for a sports injury and was feeling in great shape.
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