March 18 (UPI) -- The first body from the Christchurch mosque shootings has been released, authorities said.
New Zealand Deputy Police Commissioner Wally Haumaha said Monday the first of 50 victims' bodies has been released to the family. The family, who lost two members in the attacks, chose to wait to accept both bodies together after an autopsy on the second, Haumaha said.
Haumaha said the process of returning bodies has been "intense" and officials have employed 90 Disaster Victimization workers to aid in the process, to return them to their families as quickly as possible in accordance to the Islamic faith.
"We had the first official release last evening, however that person was not released into the family as a result of another family member having been killed," he said in a press conference. "The desires and wishes of the family at this point is to wait until we finish the postmortem with that person and both will be released together."
Haumaha said he hoped more bodies will be released by the middle of the week.
"There will be a lot of decisions being made. There'll be those wanting to repatriate back to their home countries. There'll be those who want to bury within the time frame that they receive these bodies. There'll be others that want to come together and have a mass burial," Haumaha said. "So that question, we're trying to work as expediently as we can."
Meetings are planned, he said, to organize burials and blessings were held Monday by Muslim leaders at the two mosques.
"We hope to have those premises in place by the end of the week to allow our Muslim community to go back and to undertake prayer," he said.
Sunday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she hoped they all would be returned by Wednesday.