Three people have been confirmed dead by the New Zealand police after it responded Thursday to reports of shots being fired in a building in downtown Auckland, the city where the first game of the Women’s World Cup will be played later in the day.
Police said the situation had been contained to a single building that was under construction in lower Queen Street, close to a World Cup fan zone that had not opened for the day. Police were urging people to avoid the area or stay inside their buildings if already there.
“Police have contained a serious incident that unfolded at a construction site in Auckland’s CBD this morning,” New Zealand police tweeted. “Multiple injuries have been reported and at this stage we can confirm two people have died. The male offender is also deceased.”
New Zealand Prime Minster Chris Hipkins said the tournament would go ahead as planned.
“Clearly with the FIFA World Cup kicking off this evening, there are a lot of eyes on Auckland,” Hipkins said. “The government has spoken to FIFA organizers this morning and the tournament will proceed as planned. I want to reiterate that there is no wider national security threat. This appears to be the action of one individual.”
Officials from Eden Park, where the game between New Zealand and Norway was scheduled to be played following an opening ceremony for the tournament, said security would be heightened ahead of the first match and encouraged ticket holders to arrive to the stadium early.
“There will be an increased security presence within the precinct and across the venue. Additional traffic management measures are in place,” Eden Park said.
Hipkins said the shooter was armed with a pump-action shotgun. Police arrived one minute after the first emergency call and had run into harm’s way to save lives, he said.
“These kinds of situations move fast and the actions of those who risk their lives to save others are nothing short of heroic,” Hipkins said.
Acting Police Superintendent Sunny Patel said the man began shooting at the site on lower Queen Street about 7:20 a.m. Police swarmed the area and closed off streets.
Patel said the man moved through the building, firing at people there.
“Upon reaching the upper levels of the building, the male has contained himself within the elevator shaft and our staff have attempted to engage with him,” Patel said in a statement. “Further shots were fired from the male and he was located deceased a short time later.”
It wasn’t immediately clear if police had shot the gunman or he had killed himself.
Patel said that while alarming, the incident was isolated and didn’t pose a national security risk.
The incident comes as many soccer teams were gathering in New Zealand for the Women’s World Cup, which the country is co-hosting with Australia, with organizers FIFA issuing the following statement after the shooting.
“FIFA extends its deepest condolences to the families and friends of the victims who lost their lives following the incident which occurred this morning in Auckland, New Zealand, and our thoughts and prayers remain with those who have been injured in this tragic incident.
“FIFA has been informed that this was an isolated incident that was not related to football operations and the opening match tonight at Eden Park will proceed as planned. The opening hours of the FIFA Fan Festival in Auckland city centre will be confirmed in due course.”
New Zealand Football issued a statement saying it was shocked by the incident in Auckland CBD, but could confirm that all of the Football Ferns team and staff were safe. It added: “Preparations for the game tonight at Eden Park will continue as planned.”
Norway captain Maren Mjeldeb, whose team was staying in a hotel near where the incident occurred, said: “Everyone probably woke up quite quickly when the helicopter hovered outside the hotel window and a large number of emergency vehicles arrived. At first we didn’t know what was going on, but eventually there were updates on TV and the local media.
“We felt safe the whole time. FIFA has a good security system at the hotel, and we have our own security officer in the squad. Everyone seems calm and we are preparing as normal for the game tonight. Then we may have to adapt if there are any instructions from the authorities.”
The United States begins group play on Friday against Vietnam in Auckland. A USWNT press officer said on Thursday: “All of our players and staff are accounted for and safe. Our security team is in communication with local authorities and we are proceeding with our daily schedule.”
The U.S. team added in a statement that it was “saddened by the inexcusable loss of life to gun violence, and our thoughts are with the people of Auckland/Tamaki Makaurau and Aotearoa New Zealand.”
Information from The Associated Press was used in this story.