LynnMall terror attack survivors suffering 'severe trauma' two years on

Amy Williams for RNZ

Warning: This story contains details of violence.

Survivors and witnesses of the LynnMall terror attack have together asked a coroner to hold a public inquest into the event.

A hearing is under way in Auckland to determine the scope and form of a coronial inquiry into the death of Ahamed Samsudeen more than two years ago.

He was fatally shot by the police after stabbing eight people in a supermarket in September 2021, shortly after his release from prison.

Coroner's counsel Anna Adams said a group of 12 survivors and witnesses still had unanswered questions and wanted a public inquest.

"The entire event was less than five minutes. All of the survivors describe a scene of panic, chaos and fear in the supermarket during the incident.

"All of them describe fearing for their own lives and the lives of others.

"Many of them experienced terror and extreme distress at seeing the injuries that Mr Samsudeen inflicted on members of the public with a kitchen knife that he had picked up in the supermarket.

"Many of the survivors have no memory of the incident after a certain point and it's often the point that they escaped the threat of immediate harm."

The survivors are a group of Auckland residents, six women and six men, who were aged between 29 and 77 years at the time of the attack.

Adams said the survivors' "primary motivations for participation in this inquiry are to support each other (especially those who suffered life-threatening physical injuries) and to try to prevent a re-occurrence of tragic events such as unfolded in Countdown".

She said they supported holding an inquest, a public hearing.

"On this point, the survivors consider that the incident, being the events in Countdown of 3 September 2021, has not had a public airing.

"The survivors therefore support the need for the coroner to hold a public hearing about what happened in Countdown and make findings of fact about this."

However, Adams said the survivors did not wish to be called to give live testimony and be cross-examined, unless absolutely necessary.

She described the ongoing trauma they experienced.

"All of the survivors have recollections of Mr Samsudeen as he conducted the attack including the words he spoke, the gestures and physical force he used with the knife, his aggressive demeanour, and the look on his face when he was close to them. Some describe Mr Samsudeen as seeming 'crazy', waving the knife around and shouting, and some heard him say 'Allah Akbar'.

"All of the survivors have suffered consequences of the incident. The mental health consequences range from intrusive memories through to severe trauma.

"A number describe being unable to cope with everyday events such as a visit to the supermarket, the sounds of sirens, the sound of screaming (even on television), or the sight of a cooking knife. These are triggers for distress and anxiety for the survivors.

"As a result of the incident, many also suffered serious impacts on their families, their relationships with their partners and children, their working lives, their ability to earn an income and their everyday happiness. This is the traumatic legacy of Mr Samsudeen's death for the survivors. "

Some survivors are at the hearing in Auckland, others are attending via audio-visual link.

'Lives have been profoundly affected'

Coroner Marcus Elliott will consider the findings of the five state agency investigations, and hear submissions from survivors, Police, Immigration, Corrections and Samsudeen's family.

He said the tragic events of the day affected many people in many ways and acknowledged Samsudeen's family, listening via audio-visual link.

"The tragic events of that day affected many people in many ways."

He extended condolences to Samsudeen's family, whose father had died since the attack and whose mother had become frail in her old age.

"I recognise the loss they suffered, the pain they experienced and continue to experience.

"I acknowledge those who suffered harm that day both physical and mental due to the actions of Mr Samsudeen, I have no doubt that your lives have been profoundly affected."

Elliott assured them they would have a voice in the coronial inquiry process.

"I acknowledge those who tried to help Mr Samsudeen in various ways in the period before his death and were let down by his actions. This includes the lawyer representing him with his immigration affairs, it also includes those at the mosque who had the goodness of heart to allow Mr Samsudeen to live there after his release from prison."

He also acknowledged the actions of staff from Immigration, Corrections, Security Intelligence Services and Police, "all public servants who tried in various ways to prevent Mr Samsudeen doing what he did".

"I acknowledge the police officers who entered Countdown that day and confronted Mr Samsudeen, as Mr Samsudeen's family say in their written submissions no one would wish to be in that position."

The hearing continues.