Savagery erupts in afternoon of terror

from page 1 of The Australian, April 29, 1996

by D.D. McNicoll, Bruce Montgomery, Chip Le Grand and Kimina Lyall

  Savagery on an almost unbelievable level returned yesterday to Port Arthur, one of the cruellest convict settlements, when the lone teenage gunman massacred at least 21 innocent tourists and injured score more at the remote settlement in Tasmania's south-east.
  Two hundred police, 20 per cent of Tasmania's police force, sped to the site -- home until 150-years ago of Britain's most dangerous criminals transported to Van Diemen's Land -- after the alarm was raised shortly after 1.30pm.
  The afternoon of terror began when the blond-haired gunman -- armed with a single high-powered rifle -- walked into a cafe within the Port Arthur historic site and, after eating lunch, began firing randomly at tourists and staff.
  "There are a lot of WASPS (white Anglo Saxon Protestants) around today, not many Japs," he said before he opened fire.
  According to witnesses, the young man, who had appeared quite rational when he drove into the settlement in an old Volkswagon with a surfboard on the roof, opened fire on visitors in the retail shops and in the car park on the site after taking a high-powered, rapid-fire rifle from a tennis bag.
  A nurse from Melbourne, who did not want to be named, said that when the shooting began she thought it was children throwing pine cones on the tin roof of the cafe. Others thought it was some sort of re-enactment.
  It was only when she heard a single scream that she realised that it was "for real" and that people were being shot.
  'People were walking down the hill and hurrying towards the cafeteria," she said, "They thought it was a re-enactment and they didn't want to miss anything. They were running towards the danger."
  Lynn said she hid behind the wall of the penitentiary ruins as bullets ricocheted nearby.
  Across the road she saw the feet of a woman lying on the other side of a tour bus.
  The nurse said she heard more gunfire coming from the cafeteria. Although terrified, she ran over to where the woman lay. As she ran across the compound, frightened tourists were running the other way, telling her people had been shot and that people were dead.
  When she reached the other side of the bus, she saw three victims of the gunman.
  "Behind the bus, there were three victims, one dead, one lady was shot in the back and one lady was shot in the neck. The one that was dead was the bus driver."
  The nurse said she administered basic first aid to the victims, soothing them and wiping their faces with their handkerchief.
  Hearing no more gunfire from the cafeteria, she then went inside to find a horrific scene of more bodies strewn across the floor.
  In a state of shock, yet somehow calm, she gave first aid to the people who had been shot -- applying compresses and making tea.
  I was so scared but I am a nurse, so I did as much as I could for those people," she said, "It was ages before the police got there, it seemed like hours."
  A Victorian tourist, Ms Guilia Sibly, said the shooting started in the historic site's Broad Arrow cafe.
  "We just thought it was part of the park -- then people started to run.
  "There were about three or four people down near a tourist bus."
  One of the dead was beleived to be the bus driver and at least one other was beleived to be a woman who worked at the cafe.
  "When it happened everyone just stayed where they were because we were just scared," Ms Sibley said.
  After his shooting spree at the cafe, the gunman moved north -- first shooting at the toll booth office at the entrance to the historic site and then at the nearby Fox and Hounds tavern.
  The Fox and Hounds part-owner, Mr Les Gore, said his first inkling there was anything wrong was when wounded were helped into the hotel lobby.
  A shocked Mr Gore said the hotel became a first aid shelter for the wounded.
  "We just brought down mattresses and blankets and tried to do what we could to make them comfortable," Mr Gore said.
  "We didn't have any real first-aid knowledge but the ambulance got here from Nubeena pretty quickly."
  Mr Gore said he had initially paid no notice to the first shots, believing they were someone "shooting rabbits".
  "The man started shooting inside the historic site and kept moving north," he said. "We were told the man, blond-headed, just ran out on to the road and started shooting, just blasting away at the cars going past.
  "There were dozens and dozens of shots ringing out.
  "There wasn't any panic here, it was pretty well controlled."
  Ms Karen Jones, of Hobart, told the ABC radio station that she had been told a "little girl" was among those killed.
  "We did not see it but the guy that we were with had to go and help take a stretcher in and the mother was saying, 'You have to get my baby to the hospital, quick, quick', but the child was already dead," Ms Jones said.
  Mr Rob Atkins, of Sydney, said that he and his wife, Karen, had been inspecting some of the old cottages on the site when they heard gunfire coming from the cafeteria area.
  "People began running for cover," Mr Atkins said, "We had thought that it was all part of the show down there but we were quickly ushered into the old medical officers cottage for our protection.
  "It was terrifying."
  Mrs Atkins said she had been speaking to a woman who had met the gunman in the cafeteria.
  "She said 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," Mrs Atkins said.
  "She sat opposite him and had lunch. He seemed quite a nice fellow, then he remarked on the fact that there were a lot of WASPS around 'but not a lot of Japs'.
  "The man then pulled a gun out of his tennis bag and opened fire on those who were in the cafeteria and the gift shop next door. The woman said she dived for cover and the man who was with her ran outside and dived under one of the outside tables."
  Late last night, more than 200 Tasmanian police surrounded a modest bed and breakfast guest house overlooking the northern reaches of the normally tranquil Port Arthur where the young gunman was believed to be holding at least three people hostage in what the police described as "a siege situation".
  Throughout the night, spasmodic shots rang out from the guest house as police attempted to negotiate with the gunman.
  Superintendent Barry Bennett told reporters at a police roadblock about 10km north of Port Arthur that the gunman was communicating with police negotiators.
  Superintendent Bennett said more shots had been fired from the cottage about 5km north of the Port Arthur at about 7.30pm.
  "From the number we've been told who have been injured, he obviously has access to a lot of ammunition," he said.

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