New Zealand rugby icon Sonny Bill Williams’ eyes welled with tears as he paid tribute to the dozens of worshipers gunned down while attending Friday prayer at two mosques in New Zealand’s Christchurch.
The 33-year-old footballer, who became the first Muslim man to represent New Zealand’s national rugby union team the All Blacks, took to social media to share his grief over the senseless violence on Friday. He wrote on Twitter that his “heart is hurting” and he was sending “love and prayers” to all of the families affected.
“Just heard the news and I couldn’t put it into words how I’m feeling right now,” a teary-eyed Williams said, sniffling, in a minute-long clip. “Just sending my duas [prayers] to the families. Just sending my duas to your loved ones. Inshallah [God willing] you guys are all in paradise.”
“I’m just deeply, deeply saddened that this would happen in New Zealand,” he continued in the video, which has since been viewed more than 1.2 million times and garnered more than 35,000 retweets.
Thousands of fans replied to Williams’ emotional clip to share messages of unity and condolences for the victims and their families.
“Love you my bro. Together we stand as one,” one Twitter user replied.
“A very sad day! The #ChristChurchMosqueAttack has shocked us all. Such barbaric acts of terror are strongly condemned no matter who the victims or perpetrators are. We ALL need love, kindness & respect. Let’s pray for the victims, their loved ones, the nation & humanity at large,” another agreed.
“When one of our brothers are hurt we ALL HURT,” a user added.
The Auckland-born man, who currently plays for the Auckland Blues and touts two Rugby World Cup medals, converted to Islam in 2009. He’s since credited his faith with giving his life fulfillment.
“It’s giving me happiness. It’s made me become content as a man, and helped me to grow. I’ve just got faith in it and it has definitely helped me become the man I am today,” he told CNN of the religion in 2013.
At least 49 people were killed and 48 were injured in mass shootings at the two New Zealand mosques on Friday. One man was arrested and charged with murder in what appeared to be a carefully planned racist attack. Two other armed suspects were being held in custody as authorities determine how they might be involved.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.