At least two people were killed and many others injured when a gunman stormed a building under construction in the New Zealand city of Auckland early Thursday, hours before the start of the upcoming Women’s World Cup soccer match.
The gunman was also killed, police said in a post on Twitter.
New Zealand police first received reports of someone firing a gun inside the building at about 7:20 a.m. local time, police spokeswoman Anna Thompson said in an email.
Passers-by and commuters heard gunshots during the chaos. Police and armored vehicles swarmed the area, and authorities sealed off parts of the city.
The incident happened when the New Zealand and Norway teams were due to play at Eden Park Stadium, about three miles from where the shooting took place. Several World Cup teams and many fans live in Auckland’s central business district, and the shooting is said to have taken place very close to Team Norway’s hotel.
The United States team, which plays its first game here against Vietnam in two days, will also be in the region.
“In light of the incident in Auckland, all of our USWNT players and staff have been accounted for and are safe,” US Soccer said in a statement, referring to the acronym for the United States Women’s National Team. “Our security team is liaising with local authorities and we are continuing with our daily routine.”
The shooting took place in a densely populated area of the city with offices and hotels across the street from the city’s waterfront.
Police said an armed man entered the building – which was under construction and housed many construction workers, at the foot of Queen Street – and went downstairs while shooting.
The Prime Minister of New Zealand, Chris Hipkins, said in a press conference that the shooter had a spray gun.
Within minutes, hundreds of armed police arrived on the scene, warning people to take cover and evacuate the area. Roads were closed for a two-block area, and a police helicopter was hovering overhead. The police chased the gunman up to the top floor, and as soon as they got there, gunfire – heard from the street below the tower – was confirmed.
“When he reached the top of the building, the man locked himself in the elevator room and our staff tried to deal with him,” the police said. “Another shot was fired at the man and he was found dead a short time later.”
Mr. Hipkins said that the gun went in the direction of the elevator and that is where his body was found. The shooter was not immediately identified.
The construction workers, many of whom hid in the building when the shooting happened, were released several hours later, and the police cleared the building.
The motive for the shooting and other details were not immediately available.
Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown said post on Twitter: “This is a nightmare for Aucklanders on their Thursday morning commute. Please stay at home, avoid going into the city center. “
The Norwegian players were all in their hotel at the time of the shooting; others were sleeping, but local news said a few came to eat breakfast in the dining room next to the basement. After the police moved to seal off the area around the shooting, guards asked members of the Norwegian delegation to stay inside the hotel, according to the president of the Norwegian football association, Lise Klaveness.
“Everything is calm in the Norwegian team,” said Halvor Lea, spokesperson for the Norwegian women’s team in a statement. “The preparations are going well.”
In another statement, the head of the Norwegian team, Maren Mjelde, said that many of the players must have woken up after hearing the sound of a helicopter outside their hotel window and dangerous cars that arrived in front of them.
He said: “We felt safe all the time.
In New Zealand, gun ownership is low and gun violence is considered rare. But in 1997, six people were killed and four others were injured in the town of Raurimu in the North Island. And in 1990, a gunman in the town of Aramoana killed 13 people and injured three others.
A few days later, then-prime minister Jacinda Ardern announced a temporary shortage of most automatic weapons, and a months-long gun buyback and amnesty program began. Later that yeara nationwide arms embargo went into effect.
Tariq Outside reported from Sydney, Australia.