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Alex Johnson

Stuff —

Young New Zealanders marched for a better future on Friday but by the afternoon their world had changed for the worse. Alex Johnson, head boy at Mana College, says only love will counter hate.

I didn't know anything until about 7pm when I walked in and saw the news: at that stage they were saying 41 people were dead. It was heartbreaking - that it happened at a mosque as well - and I couldn't stop thinking of my Muslim friends. I have lots of them.

I guess it caught me off guard, this isn't New Zealand; this is a safe country, a diverse country and a safe place for my Muslim mates.

Mum and I talked about it, she said if I saw or heard anything racist to stamp it out. She kept saying it was terrible.

On Tuesday Mana College will have an assembly and if I have to speak as head boy I'll tell the students to love each other. I'll tell them that everyone is different and we need to respect and protect each other. We need to love each other more than we did before.

I remember the Paris attacks and how I thought it could never happen here, not in New Zealand. I was probably quite naive before this but now I feel my eyes have been opened: my friends were saying the same thing today, our eyes are open now.

It's just heartbreaking, pretty much.

New Zealand was a safe place, where anyone could be free and open about their ideology and religion; the country represented all that. It still is the same place, we've just grown up.

Before this happened we didn't have a care in the world, now we know we have to watch each other's backs more. My friends have talked about waking up this morning and realising it wasn't a bad dream: it was real, it wasn't hyperbole.

Young people marched for climate change on Friday and they'll march for this but it won't just be young people, it will be everyone this time.

The person who did this wanted to make us scared and pull our country apart but that plan won't work. The alleged murderer has taught us about unity and community, and will make us love other people, other religions and other cultures even more than we did before.

What happened here isn't us, this isn't New Zealand. This is a country who loves people and in the future we'll love them even more.