Atta Elayyan, a tech entrepreneur, athlete, young husband and father who spent his childhood in Oregon was among the 49 people killed Friday in shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, said his childhood friend Mohamed Aylajouri.
Elayyan was born in Kuwait and is of Palestinian descent, and his family moved to Corvallis in the 1990s to help grow the Muslim community there, Aylajouri said.
The Elayyans helped to establish a school and a mosque in the small city, and Aylajouri said he came to know the family through Elayyan’s mother, who gave Arabic lessons.
“They were instantly creating a positive impact,” Aylajouri told The Oregonian/OregonLive.
Aylajouri said he became quick friends with Elayyan, whom he described as an outgoing and positive kid who grew into a mature, bright man.
Elayyan’s family moved to Christchurch when he was a preteen to work with the Muslim community there, Aylajouri said. But they would regularly return to Oregon to visit friends and family still living here, and the visits continued into Elayyan’s adulthood, when he would come to the Northwest for technology conferences.
Friday’s shooting, which initial reports indicate was carried out by one or more white supremacists, cut short Elayyan’s promising life, Aylajouri said.
The young man, just 33 when he was killed, had married three years ago and had an infant daughter.
He was the founder and chief executive of a growing tech startup, Lazyworm Applications, and was twice named among New Zealand’s top tech leaders.
He also played goalkeeper on New Zealand’s national futsal team (the game is like soccer but played on a hard court).
“His career was taking off. He was a rock star goalie,” Aylajouri said.
When news of the shooting broke, Elayyan’s friends in Oregon began to realize he could be in danger.
“We thought, what are the odds it’s his city?” Aylajouri said. “Then we thought, what are the odds it’s his mosque? Then it turns out – it is his mosque.”
Aylajouri said Elayyan’s aunt confirmed the young man’s death Saturday. His father was also shot but survived and is in critical condition after undergoing emergency surgery.
Aylajouri said news of his friend’s death has rocked him personally and shaken the global Muslim community.
“We’re still trying to come to terms with this reality,” he said.
— Gordon R. Friedman