Australia mourns victims of massacre

May 1, 1996
Web posted at: 10:25 a.m. EDT (1425 GMT)

HOBART, Australia (CNN) -- At an emotional memorial service in the Tasmanian capital of Hobart, distraught relatives of victims of the Port Arthur massacre collapsed after observing a nationwide minute of silence. Outside the cathedral, more than 2,000 grieving Australians openly wept and hugged one another. (605K QuickTime movie)


Meanwhile, throughout the country, flags flew at half staff Wednesday as the country mourned the 35 slain victims.

Hundreds of people, including Prime Minister John Howard and other political and religious leaders, joined dozens of relatives and friends at the memorial service in St. David's Cathedral. (160K AIFF sound or 160K WAV sound)


"No one in our small community goes untouched by this wickedness," Tasmanian Premier Tony Rundle said at the service. "Pain is etched in every face, in every anguished voice, in every grieving tear, and it is pain shared throughout our nation and around the world."

The service was carried live nationally on radio and television, and prayers were offered from the Bible, the Koran, the Hindu script Bhagavad-Gita and Buddhist readings. Thirty-five candles -- one for every man, woman and child killed --were lit in their memory.

At one point, Bishop Phillip Newell made a surprise reference to members of the accused killer's family, whom he said are devastated by the act. (128K AIFF sound or 128K WAV sound) The suspect, Martin Bryant, is still hospitalized in Hobart for treatment of burns received in the house fire that ended the tragedy.

Australia's head of state, Britain's Queen Elizabeth, sent her condolences, comparing the Tasmanian massacre with the shootings in the Scottish town of Dunblane, where 16 kindergartners and their teacher were gunned down.

"I offer my prayers to you all," the queen said in a message read by Tasmanian Gov. Sir Guy Green.

Ban on semi-automatic firearms pushed

Earlier, Howard laid a wreath at the site of the shootings.

Prime Minister Howard

"This is an event that has shaken the core of the country in a way that no individual crime has done in my lifetime," he said.

After the memorial service, the prime minister called on Australia's six states to adopt a nationwide ban on semi-automatic weapons. And the Tasmanian government, long reluctant to impose such a ban, announced it will take steps next week to outlaw semi-automatic and military-style firearms.

Tasmania has one of the highest levels of gun-ownership in Australia.

In related news, police said on Wednesday a 73-year-old woman died of a heart attack when she was told on Sunday her son was wounded and his wife killed in the massacre.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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