Armed police had surrounded the guest house where he had taken refuge after his killing spree at the small tourist town of Port Arthur. At least 19 people were injured, some seriously. A police spokesman said they captured the man, who had suffered burns, outside the cottage. They were proceeding to search the building to learn what happened to the hostages.
The gunman, who has a history of mental problems, had been firing on police with heavy-calibre military-type rifles, one of them an AR-15 and the other an SKS assault rifle, Deputy Police Commissioner Richard McCreadie said.
Earlier yesterday, the man had driven into town in a Volkswagen with a surfboard on the roof, and chatted idly with tourists at the site of the historic penal colony around which the town is built. Then he pulled out a rifle, which was concealed in a tennis-racket cover, entered the Broad Arrow Cafe, and began firing, chasing the tourists as they ran screaming into the street.
He moved on to the car park, where he turned on two coaches, killing several tourists in each one, and fired on cars which were approaching the gates to the site. "He left the site shooting as he went, shooting everybody he could see," said Wendy Scurr, who was working at the front desk.
The gunman then drove to the nearby Fox and Hounds Hotel, crowded with tourists, where he continued shooting. "That's where most of the people were killed," a police spokesman said. Thirty Australians and two Canadian tourists died, including several children and a baby.
"He wasn't going bang, bang, bang - it was bang and then he'd pick someone else out and line them up and shoot them," said a witness, Phillip Milburn.
Police were releasing little information about the man, from Hobart. "He has been undertaking medical treatment for some problems that he has had," said Luppo Prinz, Tasmania's Assistant Police Commissioner. Members of his family helped police with their negotiations during the siege. It was possible a personal dispute sparked off the shooting spree.
Police, still searching around the ruins of the old penal convict settlement for more bodies, said the death-toll could be higher. Television reports said the gunman also shot at helicopters ferrying the wounded to hospital in Hobart, and there were reports that a parked car with people in it was set alight.
It is only a month since 16 children and their teacher were shot in Dunblane; nine years before, Michael Ryan killed 16 people in Hungerford. But the toll in Port Arthur seems likely to be the highest yet in such an incident.
The assault left Australia stunned. "I was shocked and appalled at the senseless murder of innocent people, and offer the government's sympathies to the families and friends of those who have died and been injured," the Prime Minister, John Howard, said.
State laws vary in Australia, but it is fairly easy for a person without a criminal record to buy a rifle or shotgun. Previous incidents have made gun control a controversial issue, but this massacre seems certain to lead to calls for tougher restrictions.
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