Gunman leaves a tableau of death

Tasmania massacre: Witnesses describe rampage that left 34 dead, and describe mentally-ill suspect's love of firearms

A day after a gunman went on the rampage in the Tasmanian tourist resort of Port Arthur, the bodies of 20 people who were shot as they ate lunch remained in their seats in the restaurant where he began his attack.

"Some of the deceased are sitting there as if they were enjoying their meals at the time they were shot," Superintendent Jack Johnson said. "Their meals were still on the table." The bodies remained where they were until a coroner completed examining the murder sites.

The gunman was named as Martin Bryant, 28, from Hobart. He had no criminal record but a history of psychological problems. Yesterday he was being treated for burns, as police said the death-toll of 34 from the massacre, the world's worst involving a single gunman, could rise. The victims ranged in age from three to 72 years. Bryant was arrested after fleeing a burning building where he had held three hostages.

He left with his clothes ablaze after an outbreak of fire ended an 18- hour siege at a guesthouse. Detectives had tried to persuade him to surrender peacefully. Negotiations ended when the battery of his mobile phone went dead. He ran from the building and threw down two rifles after his clothes caught alight. Doctors said he was in a satisfactory condition in Royal Hobart Hospital, which was also caring for 18 of his victims.

He holed himself up in the Seascape Cottage on Sunday afternoon after running amok in a rampage which left bodies strewn around Port Arthur, one of Tasmania's most popular tourist attractions, the ruins of the penal colony to which Britain sent many prisoners from 1830 to 1877.

The victims included a three-year-old girl, her six-year-old sister and their mother. The six-year-old was cowering behind a tree when she was shot.

Police searching the guest house found the charred remains of two hostages, believed to be David and Sally Martin, who owned it, and were apparently friends of Bryant's father. A third hostage was still missing. "We don't know how the fire started," the Tasmanian Assistant Police Commissioner, Luppo Prins, said.

"The 28-year-old man is currently at the hospital under guard of police and it is proposed to talk to him as soon as possible," Mr Prins added. No charges have been laid yet.

As hundreds of Tasmanians flocked to a prayer and candle-light service at Hobart's Anglican cathedral last night, the Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, warned a culture of violence might be taking hold in Australia; the killings had "shaken the nation to the core".

The gunman's rampage began when he entered the Broad Arrow Cafe in Port Arthur, carrying a tennis bag from which he pulled a rifle and started shooting. He then moved on among the ruins of the old convict settlement, shooting dead four people before driving to the entrance of the ruins, where he killed the mother and her two young daughters. He shot dead all four occupants of a car which he then drove to a service station, where he killed a woman, his 32nd victim.

One witness, Milo Roganovic, from Melbourne, said. "He was following us and I thought to myself: 'That's it, we're dead'. I can't believe we're alive; I'm glad we are going (home) now."

At the service station the gunman kidnapped a man and shoved him in the boot of the car, then drove to the nearby Seascape guest house.

Yesterday, green cloth covered the blood-soaked roads where victims outside the cafe were killed. Four foreigners were among the dead - two Malaysians, a New Zealander and another from South Asia or South-East Asia. Four bodies were left where they fell at the scene, to allow the police to gather more evidence. Some relatives of the dead visited the area with police: a man who lost his wife and two children sat in a squad car sobbing, with his head in his hands.

Bloodied blankets marked the spots where victims were killed. Pools and trickles of blood on roads and pavements and shattered glass from shot- out car windows were testament to the indiscriminate brutality of the killings.

The greatest horror was in the Broad Arrow Cafe. The officer in charge of the scene, Superintendent Johnston, said the diner resembled a war zone. Many of the dead clearly did not have any warning of the hail of bullets. "Their meals were still on the table. Blood was everywhere." Some were found with forks raised to their mouths.

A woman from Melbourne who did not give her name said she took refuge under a table when the gunman fired. "I just lay there and all I could hear was the gun and screaming," she said. "The only thing that went through my head was, 'the next one's for me'." Afterwards, she said, "There were people just sitting there in their chairs where they'd been eating - dead ... There was a weird sort of calm, as if no one could believe what they were seeing."

Other survivors told of sheltering behind stone walls of the old prison buildings as the bullets flew. Some said they had initially thought the shots they heard were blanks, fired by costumed staff at the site. Others helped drive victims to safety. Some of the rescuers had been hit themselves.

Police have not yet interviewed Bryant nor established a motive for the attack. Local media said he suffered mental problems and mood swings after a car crash three years ago. People who described themselves as neighbours said he lived on a farm near Hobart and had threatened to shoot trespassers in the past and terrified them with his fondness for firearms. They also said he had bizarre habits and was known to sleep with a pig.

When he first moved in, two female neighbours asked if they could buy raspberries from him, as they had from the previous owner. "He told them to get off his property and not to come back or he would shoot them," said one former neighbour, who asked not to be named.

"He would go off - he would be a totally different person," the woman said. About three years ago Bryant's father drowned at a dam on the property, she recalled. The death was declared a suicide. But she said the son's reaction was strange.I don't think he was at all upset by his father's death."

As shock and outrage swept Australia, Mr Howard called a summit next week of federal and state government ministers to tighten the laws on gun control, which the Port Arthur massacre has exposed as being inadequate. "Let me make it clear that I will not retreat an inch from the national responsibilities I have on this issue," Mr Howard said. "Not an inch."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

Recruitment Genius: Cleaner / Caretaker / Storeman

£15500 - £17680 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A position has become available...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Sales - SaaS B2B

£60000 - £120000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This conference call startup i...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital and print design a...

Day In a Page

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
Satya Nadella: As Windows 10 is launched can he return Microsoft to its former glory?

Satya Nadella: The man to clean up for Windows?

While Microsoft's founders spend their billions, the once-invincible tech company's new boss is trying to save it
A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

A Very British Coup, part two

New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms
What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist? Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories

What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist?

Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories
Chinese web dissenters using coded language to dodge censorship filters and vent frustration at government

Are you a 50-center?

Decoding the Chinese web dissenters
The Beatles film Help, released 50 years ago, signalled the birth of the 'metrosexual' man

Help signalled birth of 'metrosexual' man

The Beatles' moptop haircuts and dandified fashion introduced a new style for the modern Englishman, says Martin King
Hollywood's new diet: Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?

Hollywood's new diet trends

Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?
6 best recipe files

6 best recipe files

Get organised like a Bake Off champion and put all your show-stopping recipes in one place
Ashes 2015: Steven Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

Middlesex bowler claims Ashes hat-trick of Clarke, Voges and Marsh
Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Atwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years