Christchurch mosque attacks: Shooting survivor Temel Atacocugu finds love with reporter who told his story

Mosque attack survivor Temel Atacocugu has found love with a journalist covering the aftermath of the Christchurch massacre which happened three years ago today. Kurt Bayer reports.

It was hard to see the light after New Zealand’s darkest day.

For Temel Atacocugu, just getting off the couch was a struggle – and not just because of the horrific injuries from nine bullets. His mental battles, flashbacks, and depression had laid him flat.

But when a reporter Mel Logan phoned him ahead of the terrorist’s sentencing hearing in August 2020, he picked himself up and agreed to meet for a news item.

And it was then, although they wouldn’t know it at the time, that their love story began.

His brother was coming over from Turkey to support him and Logan arranged filming at his Christchurch kebab shop.

The terror attack which killed 51 people also had a major effect on Logan – as it did for many reporters who spent weeks, months covering it.

On March 15, 2019 Logan was in the Newshub newsroom, just a few blocks from Al Noor Mosque, when the radio scanner started chattering frantically.

It was clear a major shooting incident was in progress.

“We all just froze. I don’t know how long it was before everybody left for Hagley Park,” Logan says.

She stayed in the newsroom to coordinate logistics before heading to Linwood Islamic Centre where the terrorist went after shooting 42 people dead inside Al Noor. He would kill another nine across town at the Linwood mosque.

At the same time, mother-of-two Logan was also trying to get hold of her two sons, then aged 12 and 13. They had been on a bus in Linwood when the attacks happened. One of them had watched some of the massacre’s livestream footage online.

“It was a really weird day as a journalist and as a mother,” she says.

It would take a long time for the enormity of events to sink in for Logan.

“We all just worked 24 hours together, day after day, in a really trying situation. There was no time to take stock or process anything,” she says.

“I still don’t actually think I’ve processed what’s happened – it’s too big.

“If I knew Temel and my friends in the community at the time [of March 15], I don’t know how I would’ve coped with that.”

Atacocugu’s oldest son also watched the livestream. He knew his father was inside the mosque that day and thought he caught a glimpse of him on the shooter’s sickening footage.

But it would be hours before he found out if his father had survived.

Atacocugu was shot nine times. The killer looked directly at him before pulling the trigger.

The first shot struck his upper jaw. He was also hit in both legs and left arm.

Riddled with bullets, he lay under bodies, trying not to move or make a sound, knowing that the mass killer would come back and execute him.

After Logan’s initial story on Atacocugu, they hadn’t been in touch.

But last year, she was still working on the attacks’ aftermath. She was planning another story on the shattered Christchurch Muslim community and how they were recovering through cooking and social groups.

Atacocugu, who came to New Zealand in 2009, introduced her to other grieving families and they worked closely together on the project.

And so when a Turkish community picnic was organised and Atacocugu invited Logan to come along, it felt natural to say yes.

“We were just friends,” Atacocugu says.

“We’d catch up, go walking… I never thought we would be boyfriend-girlfriend.”

They are both 46 and each have two teenage sons from previous relationships. Logan’s ex-husband is Turkish, while Atacocugu’s ex-wife is a Kiwi.

Over the past 11 months they have grown close. But they are taking things slowly.

“We’re just trying to stay in the moment,” Logan says.

“We go out and enjoy lovely scenery. We don’t have to talk if we don’t want to, we just enjoy each other’s company. It’s a very personal thing.”

Atacocugu’s painstaking, and painful, recovery is ongoing. He’s undergone multiple surgeries and still has more to come on his left arm and knees.

A psychologist has helped with post-traumatic stress but he feels like a changed man since he was shot. He agitates quickly, feels grumpy, anxious, isolated.

His doting Labradoodle dog, Max, cheers him up.

And then there’s Logan, a calm, caring, compassionate presence who has become his best friend.

“She understands my circumstances and looks after me. She has a big heart,” Atacocugu says.

Logan has been right behind him on his inspirational Walk for Peace journey, retracing the March 15 terrorist’s 360km route from Dunedin to Christchurch and raising money for the Key to Life Charitable Trust, the Child Cancer Foundation and Save the Children.

So far, he’s raised more than $45,000 and will complete the final leg, from Rolleston to Al Noor, and then onto Linwood Islamic Centre, today.

And Logan will be right by his side as they continue on their journey together.

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