Gunman kills at least 34 in Australia

Police search for more victims in shooting spree

April 29, 1996
Web posted at: 1:30 a.m. EDT (0530 GMT)

PORT ARTHUR, Australia (CNN) -- A gunman with a semi-automatic rifle killed at least 34 people in Australia's worst massacre before being arrested Monday when he ran out of a burning cottage where he had held police at bay for 12 hours.

Police said the 29-year-old man apparently set the fire in the cottage at Seascape, in which he was holding three hostages. Police had no information on the fate of the hostages. The cottage, a bed and breakfast, is about five miles from Port Arthur's historic district, where the shooting spree began Sunday afternoon.


Witnesses said that a blond man arrived with other tourists at the ruins of a colonial prison in the Australian state of Tasmania. After chatting casually with some of the people outside the ruins, the man made comments about "WASPs" and "Japs," according to an unnamed survivor.

The man then entered a nearby cafe, pulled his rifle from a tennis bag and began firing.

"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."


Another witness, Rob Atkins, said that tourists at the site weren't sure whether to take reports of the gunman seriously. (148K AIFF sound or 148K WAV sound)

"We thought it might have been someone firing muskets or something," Atkins said, "as part of the show down there."

The gunman moved from the cafe to nearby pub, then seized a hostage at a gas station, stole a car, and drove to the bed and breakfast. News reports said that the owners of the cottage were friends of the gunman's late father.

Some 200 police officers surrounded the guest house, and negotiators established contact with the gunman by telephone. The gunman initially demanded a helicopter to leave the area, but communications with him broke down, reportedly because of a problem with the man's cordless telephone.


The man ran from the building with his clothes on fire shortly after the flames were reported by police. Ammunition inside the house exploded in the fire, preventing police from searching the building immediately for the hostages.

"It doesn't look very good," said Police Superintendent Bob Fielding.


Tasmanians were shocked by the bloodbath. The dead ranged in age from 3 to 72. Most were from Australia, although at least three were believed to be from Southeast Asia. One American and a Canadian were among the 19 wounded.

"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 of WIN-TV. "This is just absolutely abhorrent to everyone."

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

From 1830 until 1877, Port Arthur's penal colony was one of the British empire's most remote and harsh sites. The prison is Tasmania's most popular tourist attraction, located on the Tasmanian Peninsula in the southeastern part of the state.

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