Hostages held in final siege

from page 1 of The Australian, April 29, 1996

by Bruce Montgomery

  The death toll in Australia's worst massacre reached 32 last night as more victims were recovered from the historic Port Arthur convict settlement where a lone gunman was holding at least three hostages in a nearby guesthouse.
  In possibly the world's worst shooting spree, a young man -- described by witnesses as in his teens or early 20s and like a "surfie" in appearance -- opened fire on visitors at the site's cafe and souvenir shop with a high-powered rapid-fire rifle he slipped from a tennis bag.
  As shocked witnesses left through the police cordon sealing off the Port Arthur area in southern Tasmania, they recounted horrific scenes of the gunman's two-hour rampage through the tourist attraction, including a young mother's insistent plea to emergency workers to treat her dead daughter.
  There were also reports the gunman had incinerated tourists in their cars and boarded a tourist bus, shooting the driver and a number of passengers.
  Tasmania's police commissioner, Mr John Johnson, told a media conference at police headquarters late last night that more than 30 people, including tourists, locals and children, were confirmed dead and a further 18 injured.
  Mr Johnson said the massacre made the Queen Street and Hoddle Street killings in Melbourne "pale into insignificance".
  The world's worst recorded massacre by a lone gunman occured on February 25, 1994, when Jewish settler machine-gunned 29 Palestinians and wounded 80 as they prayed in a mosque in the West Bank village of Hebron. The same number were killed in 1986 when a Vietnam veteran went on a shooting spree in Bogota, Colombia.
  "Police negotiators are talking to the man and I just hope that whoever he is he realises the terrible thing he has done and gives himself up," Mr Johnson said.
  The killing spree, which has left police baffled for a motive, brought fresh calls for stricter firearm laws, with gun control lobbies calling for immediate federal intervention to institute a national gun code.
  The federal Attorney-General, Mr Williams, last night undertook to press for changes to national gun laws and will place the issue on the agenda of the police ministers' meeting in July.
  The carnage also brought messages of sympathy from around the country, among them the Prime Minister, Mr Howard, the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Beazley, the Tasmanian Premier, Mr Rundle, and the Governer-General, Sir William Deane.
  A state of emergency is in place with more than 200 police -- 20 per cent of the state's force -- on duty around the scene, supported by the SES. Doctors and medical staff were rushed to hospitals in Hobart and the RAAF was placed on standby at the height of the drama.
  Police negotiators were last night maintaining telephone contact with the man, who is holed up at the Seascape Lodge, a small guesthouse a few kilometres from the Port Arthur site, where it is beleived he has one man hostage and possibly others.
  There are unconfirmed reports the gunman snatched the male hostage after commandeering a car, shooting a woman in the passenger seat three times before dumping her body and placing her husband in the boot.
  Special Operations Group snipers were among the police dragnet in place around the lodge, which is flanked by open paddocks on one side and water on the other.
  "The man is in a building that has attic rooms which give him a good view of the surrounding area. He is firing at police," Mr Johnson said.
  "There are three people in the house with him, I hope they are still alive, it is a hostage situation."
  Mr Johnson said the gunman had made some demands but would not detail what they were.
  The gunman also shot at helicopters airlifting his victims from the scene to hospital in Hobart and police said gunfire was still coming from the lodge after darkness.
  One report on police radio said: "He's got some police officers down there and he's shooting at them, and we also beleive that the people that are in Seascape are returning fire at the offender."
  The drama began at about 1.30pm when the man arrived at the historic convict ruins -- Tasmania's most popular tourist attraction, enjoying its busiest weekday with more than 600 visitors -- in a Volkswagon or Volvo car, carrying a tennis bag.
  He ate lunch at the Broad Arrow cafe, speaking "lucidly" to other visitior about the large number of WASPs (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants) and lack of "Japs" before taking the weapon from the bag and opening fire. He hunted victims in the cafeteria, the adjoining souvenir shop and the site's carpark before attacking a bus. He also blazed at the nearby Fox and Hounds Hotel before taking the hostages and seizing the Seascape Lodge, 5km away.
  Mr Ron Atkins, of Sydney, said that he and his wife Karen had been inspecting some of the old cottages when they heard gunfire coming from the cafeteria area.
  "People began running for cover. We had thought that it was all part of the show down there but we were quickly ushered into the old medical officer's cottage for our protection," he said.
  "Officials told everybody to get inside. We went upstairs, there must have been at least 50 of us in there."
  Mrs Atkins said she had been speaking to a woman who had met the gunman in the Broad Arrow Cafe.
  "He was a young fellow, about 18 or 19, he looked like a surfie, he arrived in a Volkswagon and he walked into the cafeteria carrying a tennis bag," she said.

[images: "State of emergency... an injured survivor of the Port Arthur massacre arrives on Hobart's Domain (above [26cm x 19cm]) to be ferried to Royal Hobart Hospital. Doctors and medical teams around the State were placed on stand-by and triage teams (left [9cm x 15cm]) at Royal Hobart stood waiting for the first ambulances to arrive. Not content with shooting his victims once, the gunman turned his sights on the emergency helicopters, shooting as they lifted patients and paramedics from the Port Arthur historic site -- Pictures: Kim Eiszele, Fred Kohl"
"1. At 1.30pm the gunmen enters the Broad Arrow Cafe and pulls a high-powered rifle out of a tennis bag and begins shooting indiscriminately at adults and children. He then moves out into the car park, shooting others dead and setting fire to a number of cars possibly with people inside them.
2. He then leaves the site, shooting people as they arrive at the toll booth. By now 12 people are dead.
3. He then shoots several people at the Fox and Hounds Hotel, and moves up the road to the Seascape Lodge where he take hostages at 3.30pm, fires at helicopters taking his victims to hospital and exchanges fire with the police surrounding him." (12x5) ]

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