However regardless of being shot 9 occasions, Atacocugu survived the assault at Al Noor, considered one of two mosques within the metropolis of Christchurch that have been attacked on March 15 final 12 months, in New Zealand’s deadliest modern-day mass taking pictures.
On Sunday, New Zealand will commemorate the 51 individuals who have been killed within the assaults. Atacocugu, 45, is slowly overcoming his personal bodily and psychological accidents from that day. And he’s even discovered himself able to face a childhood worry: sharks.
On the day of the assaults, Atacocugu was in a buoyant temper when he walked into the mosque. An energetic man who loves soccer, fishing and working, he’d simply completed his final acupuncture session for a sports activities damage and was feeling in nice form.
Rising up in Turkey, he’d been by means of obligatory navy coaching, so he rapidly realized what was taking place. Medical workers would later inform him he was extremely lucky that the bullet, which struck his higher jaw, deflected downward slightly than persevering with into his mind or an artery.
Atacocugu says that after that first shot to his mouth, he leapt up in shock and was shot 4 extra occasions in each legs. Folks have been screaming. One other worshipper rushed on the gunman and was killed, but it surely gave Atacocugu a few seconds to react, and to run as finest he may.
There was no apparent approach out, so he laid down immobile on the ground. He was later shot 4 extra occasions in his left arm and leg because the gunman fired indiscriminately into the piles of our bodies.
Atacocugu spent a month in a hospital and underwent 4 operations that included bone and pores and skin grafts. He’ll want not less than three extra surgical procedures within the months to come back.
“The most important change after the assault was that I can’t be free the identical as earlier than,” Atacocugu says. “As a result of very restricted shifting round. And I used to be feeling like a little bit child, as a result of any individual has to take care of me on a regular basis.”
But his bodily restoration a 12 months later is outstanding. The wheelchair and cane are gone. His left arm stays weakened, however when he walks down the road or performs along with his Labradoodle canine, Max, Atacocugu’s limp is barely noticeable.
A couple of weeks in the past, he began enjoying soccer once more with a bunch of his mates, joking that today he’s being outrun by match males of their 70s. In a single recreation, he confirmed off his expertise by tackling, spot kicking and back-heeling a move.
Atacocugu’s psychological restoration is taking longer. He’s been seeing a psychologist who’s serving to him work by means of the pictures and flashbacks that also hang-out him.
“He’s attempting to tug out the darkish spot from my mind,” he says.
Atacocugu has skilled bouts of despair and has been taking antidepressants for the reason that taking pictures. He figures he’ll must hold taking the remedy for not less than one other 12 months. He’s discovered that his reminiscence and skill to pay attention have additionally been affected.
He says he doesn’t need to hold working on the kebab store he ran with a enterprise accomplice on the time of the assault and is now attempting to promote his stake. He’s helped out on the store a few occasions for the reason that taking pictures however has discovered himself nervous round strangers, not wanting to clarify.
“It’s simply too crowded and too huge,” he says. “Folks hold asking, ‘Oh, what’s occurred to your arm?’”
Atacocugu says he’s pondering as an alternative of turning again to his expertise as a painter and decorator. It’s extra peaceable, he says, working alongside a trusted crew with solely a single buyer to take care of at anybody time. He’s additionally just lately put in a suggestion to purchase a brand new residence in Christchurch, which he hopes will assist him make a contemporary begin.
Atacocugu moved to the South Pacific nation after assembly a New Zealand lady in Turkey and marrying her in 2001. They thought Christchurch can be place to lift their youngsters, in an atmosphere that appeared pleasant and protected. The couple separated in 2016 and Atacocugu stayed in Christchurch to be close to his two teenage sons.
He plans to attend the trial of the 29-year-old Australian white supremacist who’s accused of finishing up final 12 months’s bloodbath. Brenton Tarrant has pleaded not responsible to fees of terrorism, homicide and tried homicide, and his trial is scheduled to begin in June. If discovered responsible, he faces life imprisonment.
Atacocugu says the way in which that New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and other people all through the nation got here collectively in unity after the taking pictures exhibits the gunman has already failed in his quest to sow division. Hate, he says, has misplaced and love has gained.
“As a human, sure, I’m so indignant,” Atacocugu says. “But additionally, deep of my coronary heart, my faith makes me settle down and be affected person. So I do know the New Zealand regulation system goes to punish this man, this terrorist, as a lot, as excessive as will be doable, beneath the regulation.”
Over the previous 12 months, Atacocugu has discovered moments of peace throughout two abroad journeys. One was to Turkey, the place he frolicked along with his mom and different relations and mates. The opposite was a visit to Saudi Arabia for the hajj, the annual pilgrimage that the majority Muslims are required to carry out throughout their lifetime. Atacocugu was amongst 200 survivors and family from the Christchurch assaults who traveled to Saudi Arabia as visitors of King Salman.
“Just about my entire life is the wrong way up and altered,” Atacocugu says. “However spiritually, in a non secular approach, I’m a lot stronger than I was.”
That newfound energy has filtered by means of into different facets of his life. Atacocugu remembers watching the “Jaws” motion pictures when he was a boy, an expertise that for months left him fearful of swimming.
Years later, he drew up an inventory of recent issues to expertise throughout his life, together with diving with sharks. Nonetheless, he may by no means fairly recover from that childhood worry.
However he says that after he was shot, he started to consider it quite a bit.
A few months in the past, he drove to the southern finish of New Zealand and, on a picture-perfect day, went on a tour boat and was submerged in a protecting metallic cage amongst nice white sharks that swam inside a physique size of him. The expertise left him exhilarated.
“I confronted my worry,” he says.
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