Suspected Australian gunman charged with murder

April 29, 1996
Web posted at: 11:05 p.m. EDT (0305 GMT)

PORT ARTHUR, Australia (CNN) -- The 28-year-old man witnesses say killed more than 30 people at a Tasmanian tourist spot was charged with one count of murder Tuesday at a hospital bedside court.

There is a possibility of further charges," said Tasmanian Assistant Police Commissioner Luppo Prins. "I can't tell you what they may be."

At the site of the bloodbath, Sgt. Jack Johnston points to a green cloth barely covering bloodstains on a road. Those stains, he says, mark the spot where a woman and the 3-year-old child she was carrying were gunned down. When the woman's 6-year-old daughter tried to flee, the gunman coolly took aim and killed her as well. (128K AIFF sound or 128K WAV sound)


Hours after what may be the worst massacre in Australian history, the man believed responsible for the deaths of at least 34 people in a shooting spree and house fire was in a hospital Monday, being treated for burns.

Tasmanian police said the death toll may rise. About 12 survivors are also hospitalized, with four in critical condition.

Police refused to identify the man until he appears in a formal court, excepted to be later Tuesday. But the Australian Broadcasting Corp. identified the suspect as Martin Bryant, 28, of nearby Hobart, a man with no criminal record but a history of psychological problems. He is being kept in isolation at the Royal Hobart Hospital under heavy guard.

Former neighbors of the man described him as a person of radically shifting moods, bizarre habits and a fondness for firearms.

The gunman struck Sunday, firing untold rounds from a high-powered rifle at men, women and children at a former penal settlement that is now a popular Tasmanian tourist site in Port Arthur. The dead ranged in age from 3 to 72.


The first of many memorial services for the victims was held Monday.

"It's a very small community. We have lost quite a lot of friends down here," said resident Geoff Myers. "There will be a period of grief. We will just have to move forward from here."

Hostage standoff ended by fire

After the shootings, the gunman went to a bed-and- breakfast cottage where he remained with three hostages for nearly 16 hours. According to police, he then set fire to the building with the hostages inside and rushed out with his clothes ablaze.

"He came out of the house. His clothing was on fire and he started taking his clothing off," police superintendent Bob Fielding said.

Two of the hostages' bodies were found amid the charred ruins of the cottage, and authorities are combing through the wreckage for the third.

News reports said the owners of the cottage were friends of the gunman's late father.

yellow car

Witnesses said the gunman, a blond man, arrived Sunday with other tourists at the ruins of the Port Arthur colonial prison. After chatting casually with some of the people outside, the man made comments about the relative number of "WASPs" and "Japs" present, according to an unnamed survivor.

He then entered a nearby cafe, pulled his rifle from a tennis bag and began firing. The gunman moved to a nearby pub, Fox and Hounds, and fired wildly before making his way to the cottage.

"He wasn't going 'bang-bang-bang-bang," said witness Phillip Milburn. "It was 'bang' and then he'd pick someone else out and line them up and shoot them."

For many residents, the incident is just too much.

"We watched Dunblane from afar," said the Rev. Dennis Allen, vicar general of Tasmania, referring to the Scottish massacre in which a gunman killed 17, mostly children. "This is our Dunblane."

Reuters contributed to this report.

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