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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Development Manager

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Service and Installation Engineer

£22000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: SEO / Outreach Executive

£20000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is a global marketin...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Estimator

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?