Australian gunman arrested after fire breaks out

At least 32 are dead in Australia's worst massacre

April 28, 1996
Web posted at: 7:40 p.m. EDT (2340 GMT)

PORT ARTHUR, Australia (CNN) -- Police arrested the gunman who had killed at least 32 people before holding off police for 16 hours at a bed and breakfast cottage in the southeastern part of the Australian state of Tasmania.

The arrest was made shortly after a fire broke out Monday morning at the cottage where the gunman held up to three hostages during the police siege. Police had no word on the fate of the hostages, but the gunman was taken from the scene by ambulance.

"The police are now searching the cottage," said a police spokeswoman. "He has been arrested and he is in police custody. He was arrested at 8:40 a.m. (2240 GMT Sunday) this morning and has partial burns to his body."

The gunman, described by police as a 29-year-old man with a history of mental problems, held police at bay at Seascape, about five miles from Port Arthur's historic district. Some 200 police officers, including sharpshooters and negotiators, surrounded the building , but communications with the man had been silent for nine hours before the fire broke out. (Amateur video shot near the scene - 1.1M QuickTime movie)

police arrive

At least 20 people were wounded in the shoot-out at Port Arthur's colonial prison ruins. Some reports said the man also shot at three helicopters carrying special operations forces to the scene.

"It is a very, very nasty business. It's something that we've just never heard of in Tasmania because we're a quiet little establishment," said Trevor Sutton with WIN-TV. "This is just absolutely abhorrent to everyone."

The shooting began at Port Arthur, where England sent some of its toughest convicts in the 1800s. About 30,000 prisoners were held at the penitentiary between 1833 and 1877.

The gunman peppered the Broad Arrow Cafe with bullets, then drove to the Fox and Hounds pub, a few miles away, and fired wildly on people there before traveling to Seascape, police said.

Witnesses describe the scene. (254K AIFF sound or 254K WAV sound)

"There's a lady dead in a car at the top of the drive. There's been people shot in the historic site, and there's been people shot near the Fox and Hounds," Phillip Kelley, a local cafe owner, told TV Channel 10 after the gunman began his rampage.

Wendy Scurr, who was working at Port Arthur, telephoned for help when the shooting began; she then fled for her life, like "hundreds of others," she said.

More than 500 tourists were believed to be in the complex when the shooting began. Some Asians were among the dead, and possibly some children. Those injured included people from the United States, Canada, Tasmania, and mainland Australia.

Port Arthur

Richard Mazengarb, of Port Arthur's tourist authority, said the killing spree would have a "detrimental effect" on the typically quiet, laid-back community. (111K AIFF sound or 111K WAV sound)

Helicopters airlifted victims to hospitals in Hobart, Tasmania's southeast capital, where scores of surgeons and emergency medical teams were standing by.

Port Arthur is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Tasmania, an island about 150 miles (240 kilometers) south of the Australian mainland.

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