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Man Kills At Least 34 In Rampage At Tourist Site

April 29, 1996

PORT ARTHUR, Australia (AP) _ The deadliest massacre in Australia’s modern history came to a fiery end today after police captured a gunman who slaughtered at least 34 people, then bolted in flames from an inn he set ablaze.

The man had barricaded himself inside the inn with three hostages, and two bodies were found in the burned rubble on the island of Tasmania. Police said the third hostage also likely perished, which would raise the death toll to 35.

Police sources and the Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio identified the gunman as Martin Bryant, a former resident of Hobart. Police said the 28-year-old had a history of psychological problems.

Armed with a semiautomatic rifle, the man methodically gunned down tourists Sunday at the Port Arthur historic site before retreating to the nearby bed and breakfast, which was owned by friends of his late father’s.

After a 12-hour standoff, the gunman set fire to the inn and was driven out by the flames. He threw his rifle aside.

``His clothing was on fire, and he started taking his clothing off,″ police Superintendent Bob Fielding said.

Witnesses said the gunman muttered racially tinged remarks before walking toward the Broad Arrow Cafe, where he pulled a high-powered rifle from a tennis bag and began shooting.

Today the bodies of 20 victims remained in the cafe, some sitting in front of half-eaten lunches. Police did not move the bodies for fear of disturbing evidence.

``Some of the deceased were sitting there as if they were enjoying their meals,″ police Superintendent Jack Johnston said. ``Their meals were still on the table. Blood was everywhere.

``What I saw inside the restaurant was exactly like the product of war. It was horrifying.″

About 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, the blond gunman drove up to the prison in a mustard-colored Volvo hatchback with a surfboard strapped on top and talked casually with some of the 500 people outside, police said.

``He said, `There’s a lot of WASPs around today, there’s not many Japs here, are there?′ and then started muttering to himself,″ a survivor, who was not identified, told the radio.

The man then walked into the cafe and started shooting.

``He wasn’t going bang-bang-bang-bang _ it was `bang’ and then he’d pick someone else out and line them up and shoot them,″ witness Phillip Milburn told the radio.

After the shootings in the cafe, the gunman walked outside and turned his rifle on tourists near a bus, killing four more people, including the bus driver.

He picked off others as they arrived in cars and shot at people as they ran away.

He shot a mother and the 3-year-old daughter in her arms. The woman’s 6-year-old daughter tried to hide behind a tree, but the gunman killed her, too.

He kidnapped an Australian man at a gas station and stole a car to drive three miles to a bed-and-breakfast cottage owned by David and Sally Martin, a couple in their 60s.

He used military-type rifles, an AR-15 and an SKS assault rifle, Deputy Police Commissioner Richard McCreadie said.

By early today, more than 200 police had surrounded the Seascape inn. Police tried to negotiate by phone with the gunman, who fired at them and at helicopters airlifting out the dead and wounded.

The gunman demanded a helicopter for himself, but negotiations broke down when the battery in his telephone went dead this morning. He was driven out by the fire he set.

The gunman was taken to Royal Hobart Hospital for treatment for burns, but he did not have any gunshot wounds. He will probably be charged with multiple murder on Tuesday or Wednesday, police said. Under Australian law, they may not speculate on his motives until he comes to trial. There is no death penalty in Australia.

Tasmanian reporters said the man had a history of psychiatric problems. His father died a year or two ago, they said.

Police said 25 of the people killed were Australians. Two Malaysians and an Indian also died. Not all the victims carried identification.

One American and two Canadians were wounded along with at least 15 other people, hospital officials said. The American was identified by a family friend, Debbie Burton, as Dennis Olson of Vancouver, Wash. Police, who refused to identify the American, said only that he was not badly hurt, and he was released from the hospital today.

Four of the wounded were in critical condition.

``Various massacres would pale into insignificance when you look at what has happened in Tasmania,″ said Tasmanian Police Commissioner John Johnson.

The old Port Arthur prison colony is on the Tasman Peninsula, connected to Tasmania’s mainland by one road on a narrow isthmus. Police closed off the road into Port Arthur, the landing site of some of the toughest convicts England sent into Australian exile in the 1800s.

The prison complex is Tasmania’s most popular tourist attraction. Its green lawns surround the ivy-covered remains of a Gothic church and the crumbling sandstone ruins of the old penitentiary, where 30,000 repeat offenders, political prisoners and dangerous convicts were sent from 1830 to 1877.

It was the worst mass shooting in Australia this century.

The deadliest previous shooting spree occurred in 1987, when Frank Vitkovic slaughtered eight people in Melbourne before leaping to his death from a high-rise building.

State gun laws vary in Australia, but it is fairly easy for a person without a criminal record to buy a rifle or shotgun. Tasmania has one of the most lax gun laws in the nation. Until recent law changes, almost anyone could buy any kind of weapon _ even a machine gun.

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