Brenton Tarrant, the suspect in the shooting deaths of 51 worshipers at two Christchurch, New Zealand, mosques pleaded guilty to murder, attempted murder and terrorism charges in a surprise deal with prosecutors, NPR reports. Tarrant, 29, an Australian who espoused a white supremacist ideology, had been scheduled to go on trial in June. Instead, Tarrant appeared in court via video link and told a judge he would change his plea from not guilty to guilty of 51 counts of murder, 40 counts of attempted murder and one count of terrorism.
The abrupt change of plea comes one year after the deadliest massacre in New Zealand sent the country into grieving. The violence prompted lawmakers to ban most semi-automatic weapons and the government held gun buyback programs. Jamal Green, a spokesperson for the Al Noor mosque, one the sites in which the gunman opened fire, said the plea was “sudden and unexpected,” but provided some degree of “peace in the chaos.” Before Tarrant carried out the deadly attack, he uploaded a hate-filled post to the anonymous message board 8chan, which was criticized for not acting quickly enough to remove content aimed at inciting violence. Tarrant’s bloody spree was livestreamed on Facebook for 17 minutes before it was removed.