Aya Al-Umari says her brother, Hussein Al-Umari, was a hero

By Wendy Grossman Kantor
March 19, 2019 02:31 PM

Aya Al-Umari ate dinner with her big brother, Hussein Al-Umari, last Thursday night.

When he left, she was in her bedroom with the door shut, so she didn’t have a chance to say goodbye. All evening, she recalls to PEOPLE, he had teased her about her new t-shirt, which reads, “SEE YOU BYE.”

Just one day later, Hussein Al-Umari died in the terrorist attacks on two Christchurch, New Zealand, mosques. When Aya later noticed her “SEE YOU BYE” t-shirt slung over a chair in her room, she felt it was her brother saying farewell to her.

Credit: Aya Al-Umari

Hussein Al-Umari, 35, was a friendly, generous, protective older brother, Aya Al-Umari says. Hussein and his sister were both born in the United Arab Emirates to Iraqi parents. They emigrated to New Zealand in 1997. “We’ve got three homes,” says Aya, 33.

Hussein loved cars and travel. He was between jobs in hotel tourism, according to his sister. Hussein and Aya Al-Umari often went to the beach, drank coffee and worked together on his resume. She says he liked to call her a “little ladybug.”

Credit: Aya Al-Umari

On Friday, Hussein went to services. And when the gunman entered the mosque, instead of running away, he ran toward the shooter, Aya Al-Umari says, yelling at him, “Get out of here.” Hussein died trying to tackle the assailant, she says.

Ultimately, 50 people were killed in the dual shootings at the Linwood and Al Noor mosques, and 36 had been hospitalized as of Saturday, New Zealand Police stated on Twitter. An Australian man named Brenton Tarrant, 28, has been charged with murder for the attacks, but in court on Saturday he entered no plea, according to the Washington Post.

Hussein and Aya Al-Umari
| Credit: Aya Al-Umari

“It wasn’t surprising to me at all,” Aya Al-Umari tells PEOPLE of her brother’s bravery. “I honestly have no idea how he had the courage to do that. It makes me very proud. Those moments that he tackled him could save other people. When the first shot of rounds were happening, he actually had a chance to run away. You know fight or flight? He fought. The majority of the people – even me — I would probably run away. It just makes me so proud that my brother had the chance to run away, but he didn’t.”

In her bedroom, she has booklets for volunteer work in Fiji and the Pacific Islands. To honor her brother’s memory, she plans to start volunteering and adding more good to the world.

“I want to help people now,” she says. “I’m going to do it in his name.”

At the hospital on Sunday, she spoke with the last man to see her brother alive. She asked if she could pretend he was her brother, then hug him and say goodbye.

“It’s as if I were speaking to my brother, because he was the last person to see him. I said to him, ‘I lost one brother. But I gained a lot of brothers on the way.’”