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Port Arthur survivors welcome plea
Confession lets victims move on with their lives

By Mark Bendeich

        HOBART — Survivors of Australia’s Port Arthur massacre on Friday welcomed a surprise confession by gunman Martin Bryant with relief and pity.
        “I’m elated,” said Ronald Neander, whose wife Gwenda was one of the 35 people killed in the April 28 massacre at the former penal settlement and popular tourist spot in Tasmania.
        “I was to be a witness ... and it’s lifted a load off my shoulder in this world,” Neander told The Australian newspaper on Friday.
        Walter Micak, who lost his two daughters and wife in the worst shooting massacre in modern Australian history, said he felt sorry for Bryant.
        “All I can say is I feel sorry for him. I hope he has to live for a long time and bear the scars,” Micak said in a television interview.
        Bryant shocked Australia on Thursday when he changed his plea to guilty during a procedural pre-trial hearing in the Supreme Court of Tasmania. Bryant pleaded guilty to 72 charges, including 35 counts of murder and 20 of attempted murder.
        Bronwyn Hibbert, whose sister and two infant nieces were gunned down in the first hour of shooting among the convict ruins, said she felt tremendous relief.
ĎI canít tell you what a huge relief this is for all our family. To know that we donít have to go down there (to Tasmania) and go through it all in court.í
Relative of massacre victims
        “We have lived with this hanging over our heads for so long,” Hibbert told The Age newspaper in Melbourne.
        “I can’t tell you what a huge relief this is for all our family. To know that we don’t have to go down there (to Tasmania) and go through it all in court,” she said.
        Bryant’s confessions, delivered in a bizarre court sitting where he broke into open laughter and fits of giggling at times, brought bewilderment and tears to the eyes of the 18 witnesses and bereaved family and firends who attended the hearing.
        Tasmania’s close-knit island community has been deeply shaken by the events of April 28, when Bryant suddenly took a semi-automatic rifle out of a tennis bag and opened fire inside the Port Arthur historic site’s Broad Arrow Cafe.
        No motive has been given.
        Bryant, who had moments earlier been chatting to some of the tourists eating their lunch, claimed the first 20 lives within minutes. Witnesses later likened the scene to a battlefield.
        Many of the dead and the survivors had travelled to Port Arthur from other parts of Australia. For those few who left the cafe alive, or who rushed to aid the wounded and dying, the prospect of reliving those moments in a trial was terrifying.
        Tasmania’s chief prosecutor, Damian Bugg, who had the reluctant duty to call traumatised witnesses to give evidence, was the among first on Thursday to express his relief that the case would now go to a short mitigation hearing on November 19.
        “I am relieved for their sake and for the community’s sake,” Bugg told reporters.
        The Port Arthur Recovery Centre, which was set up during the massacre to treat hundreds of people for shock and trauma, said the guilty pleas could start to ease the anger felt at Bryant’s initial denial and allow people to grieve fully.
        But the trauma of that day lives on. “For some people it remains almost like the same as on the day — it’s that raw,” the centre’s coordinator, Rod MacGregor, told Reuters.
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