We Survived a Murderer’s Bomb
SUNDAY morning, July 21, 1985, promised a crisp, midwinter’s day as Jehovah’s Witnesses and friends began filling the Casula Kingdom Hall in a western suburb of Sydney, Australia. At 9:35 a.m., David Winder, the visiting speaker, began his discourse on Christian loyalty. Just a little after ten o’clock, we were looking down, following along in our Bibles as he was reading aloud John 6:68.
He never finished the reading. An enormous blast from under the platform left him writhing on the ground, close to death. A friend of ours, Graham Wykes, a husband and a father, died instantly. Many others were hurt, some critically. Such unprovoked brutality in a place of worship shocked even a hardened world. As the news broke, Australians were glued in disbelief to their TVs and radios.
Immediately after the explosion, there was momentary silence. I think most of us were stunned and bewildered, looking around in fright, unable to speak or come to terms with the incongruity of what had just happened. The air was thick with dust. The whole scene looked and smelled like a war zone. Children began to cry, and some started to scream from shock. Later, one observer, a taxi driver, saw an “unidentified girl who probably had a beautiful face being placed into an ambulance with half her face gone.”a That unidentified girl was my wife, Sue.
Sue was knocked unconscious by something that flew from the platform straight into her face. My eardrums instantly burst. To me the explosion sounded as if someone had turned on an air hose inside my head —there was no bang, just a sudden, intolerable hiss as everything went gray. While we were in the second row of seats, the speaker was standing practically over the bomb, which had been hidden under the wooden platform.
Instinctively I crouched with my hands over my head out of fear of falling debris. The next few seconds seemed like minutes. It dawned on me then that our hall had been bombed, and a sense of foreboding gripped me, for Sue had just vanished in the debris and dust. As I shouted “Susie, Susie!” my thoughts were a confusion of questions: ‘Has she been killed? What about David—and the rest? Have I been hurt?’
Ceiling panels, plastic chairs, splintered timber, bags, and torn Bibles and magazines were strewed everywhere. Soon dazed faces, many bleeding and some peppered with splinters, emerged from the rubble. Most of those who had been seated toward the rear of the hall were unhurt except for eardrum damage.
My Wife’s Nightmare
I found Sue when I spotted her boots protruding from beneath a large, but fortunately very light, ceiling tile. When I threw it aside, I was unprepared for what I saw. Sue’s upper lip was severed horizontally beneath a crushed nose and was hanging near her chin. Her front teeth were smashed, and when I saw the damage to and around her eyes, I had fears for her sight. Her hair was a disheveled mass of blood, dirt, and splinters, and her upper left arm seemed badly cut. I was relieved, however, to see no ongoing heavy bleeding. But I learned later that I was deceived. Moments after I lifted her head and shoulders from the rubble, she weakly called out my name. I tried to calm her, mistakenly thinking she was becoming aware of what had happened. Sue later said: “I thought I was home in bed having a nightmare and desperately wanted Peter to wake me up.” She seemed to be drifting in and out of consciousness, and I did not want to leave her, but I did need help.
Another Witness, in a state of shock, exacerbated no doubt by the sight of my wife, was talking irrationally as she approached us. With my free arm, I gestured that she bend down so I could talk to her. With her eyes on Sue, she bent down and gave me her hand. We then had a brief prayer together, supplicating Jehovah for wisdom and strength to cope. By the time we said amen, although she was still teary eyed, she had fully regained her composure. I asked her to find something to serve as a pillow for Sue.
When the bomb detonated, young Paul Hahn was sitting directly in front of me and about six feet [2 m] from the piano. The blast hurled the piano into the air, and a large section of it landed on Paul, taking a sizable chunk of flesh out of his upper thigh. His beautiful front teeth, just out of braces, were smashed. Joy Wykes, widowed by the bomb, lay nearby, with a severe head injury as well as other wounds. Two of her girls were also hurt.
Of the seriously injured, the most remarkable survivor was the speaker, David Winder. The bomb hurled him and debris from the platform right up through the open space where the roof had been only moments before. He came down almost on the spot where he had been standing. He was still conscious but in a state of severe shock. Since his feet and lower legs were mutilated, some thought he would never walk again but today he is able to walk reasonably well. Some of his clothing was found in a nearby eucalyptus tree. The speaker’s stand was found three houses away in a neighbor’s backyard. Because of massive blood loss, David was in a critical state. He was flown by helicopter to a hospital.
The police and ambulance officers, much to their credit, seemed to arrive very quickly. While ambulance officers attended to the injured, the police had their work cut out. Because the blast had been heard and felt suburbs away, roads approaching the Kingdom Hall were soon choked with hundreds of curious onlookers, and news cameras were running hot. Some of our immediate neighbors kindly offered to help in any way they could.
Ambulances quickly filled and began ferrying the injured to local hospitals. Hospital staff were horrified at what had happened. Many local Witnesses came to the hospitals to offer comfort and support. David Winder and Sue were taken to a hospital especially equipped to handle trauma victims. That night in the Liverpool Hospital and while I was under general anesthesia, doctors removed splinters buried deep in my arm. The next day, with my anxiety growing, I wanted to see my wife. With just a little apprehension, the hospital released me that afternoon so that I could be with Sue.
The Blood Issue Arises
I found her in the intensive-care ward, and when I first looked at her from the foot of her bed, I wept. A grossly discolored face, swollen and distorted beyond recognition, greeted me. Groups of stitches, like miniature black zippers, held her face together.
Sue could not see because her eyes, even her eyelashes, were submerged in swollen tissue. Of her facial bones, her nose, upper jaw, cheek, and orbital bones of the eyes were shattered. The real danger, however, lay in the fact that a section of her skull just above the bridge of her nose had been rammed back, puncturing an artery. While unconscious and buried under rubble, blood poured unseen into her stomach. Her blood count plummeted to six. (The average for a woman is about 14.)
Blood transfusion immediately became an issue, eventually resulting in an impasse with the surgeon. He told Sue that her refusal to permit a transfusion, if needed, would tie his hands. Sue reassured him that we both appreciated this and “would accept any reasonable alternative procedure, but our request to ‘abstain from blood’ was not negotiable.” (Acts 15:28, 29) He would not accept this.
Psychological harassment began and persisted. Sue was asked if she had any children, and when she answered, “No,” the reply was, “Good, because they would have an ugly mother.” He also spoke to Sue of the possibility of my divorcing her because of her face. Sue’s reaction? “That was most distressing. I determined that even though the surgeon, in his own way, wanted me to look as good as possible, I was not going to let him trample on my conscience.” His relentless badgering about blood transfusion only heightened tension and wasted valuable time. During this traumatic period, what stood out in sharp contrast was the compassionate and tender care given Sue by every one of the nursing staff. They earned our respect.
It was now 11 days since the explosion had taken place. Sue’s facial bones were at that critical stage when they were about to start setting but in the wrong places. She needed surgery quickly! On his next round, her doctor, in a final burst of anger, exclaimed, “I’m not touching her!” and then walked away. These were the most anxious moments of our lives. In retrospect, however, the surgeon’s abandonment of Sue proved to be a blessing.
A Compassionate Surgeon
A Witness who is also a doctor spoke on our behalf to a plastic surgeon who agreed to treat Sue using an alternative technique. While not the medically preferred method, it eliminated the question of blood transfusion. This surgeon proved to be respectful and kind. He earned our respect, for he was prepared to do his best without the use of blood.
Threaded steel pins, about three inches [8 cm] long, were screwed into Sue’s broken facial bones. Steel bridges, in turn, held these pins in place, allowing the bones to set correctly. “With spikes protruding from my face for about six weeks, sleeping was no pleasure!” confessed Sue. Her shattered upper jaw was wired to her undamaged lower jaw to ensure that it would set correctly. Her sense of smell could not be restored.
Sue has a fine sense of humor and, more important, was able to laugh at herself, such as at the thought that she resembled a ‘walking TV antenna.’ She would need more than a good sense of humor, though, for she would be having surgery for the next two-and-a-half years. This included eardrum grafts and extensive dental work.
Both of us learned many lessons, including the power of prayer and that Jehovah never allows us to suffer more than we are capable of bearing. When confronted by the first surgeon over the blood issue, Sue confided, “I was very nervous and sad that there had to be such a confrontation. Each time I prayed to Jehovah, and the feeling of total calm that swept over me was very reassuring. I had read of other Witnesses who had experienced something similar, but now I felt it for myself.” We are now more confident about facing possible future tests, having seen how Jehovah helps in situations we previously would have considered daunting.
Some have asked us why Jehovah would permit a Kingdom Hall to be bombed and a brother to die. Throughout history, and in our time, God’s people have been subjected to many brutalities. Had Jehovah put a protective fence around them, as Satan claimed had been done for Job, their motives for serving God would indeed be open to question. We have no basis for thinking that we are beyond harm—that God will always save our skin, even from ‘unforeseen occurrences.’ Our acceptance of suffering, or even the loss of our lives for our beliefs or otherwise, recommends our worship as genuine, unselfish—not opportunistic.—Ecclesiastes 9:11; Job, chapters 1 and 2; Matthew 10:39.
Brotherhood in Action
During this time of stress, our spiritual companions proved to be “sticking closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24) Sue explains: “Some of my family flew 2,500 miles [4,000 km] to be with us during the critical first two weeks. It was such a comfort to have family and friends sit with me, for I suffered frequent nightmares.” A seemingly endless stream of cards, letters, telegrams, and flowers poured in from thoughtful brothers and sisters both here and abroad. How thankful we were for these “apples of gold in silver carvings.” (Proverbs 25:11) An excellent witness resulted. This was indeed brotherhood in action.
Sue adds: “Practical help came too. Close Witness friends juiced fruits and vegetables particularly rich in iron. We felt that since we were asking doctors to respect our wishes, we were obliged to be supportive of them, and in my case, this meant building up my blood. I also received an iron supplement.” Many of us became quite adept at converting a complete meal into a liquid, and to her credit Sue became equally accomplished at drinking it. (Have you ever tried to eat a roast dinner through a straw?) “The result of all of this was that my blood count shot up three points prior to surgery, much to the delight of my new surgeon,” says Sue.
Patience, love, prayer, the help of God’s spirit, and simply the passing of time, as well as a sensible diet, have all contributed to Sue’s recovery. Some injuries have left a legacy that only God’s Kingdom rule will correct in its own time. As for Sue’s face, to those who know her well, it is a little different but a credit to her surgeon regardless. And to me she is still beautiful.
Yes, our hope as Jehovah’s Witnesses is something special. It can carry us through any trial. And rather than weaken the congregation spiritually, this ordeal strengthened our bonds. An interested friend, present at the bombing, admits with a smile to being ‘bombed into the truth.’ Having seen firsthand such a brutal attack on peace-loving families, he became more determined to pursue his Bible study.
To date no one has been charged with the bombing, but the police do have a prime suspect, allegedly a vengeful murderer who hated the Witnesses. However, they have insufficient evidence to bring charges. He has been linked to a number of other crimes.
Now, over six years later, Sue and I continue to enjoy the privilege of serving as members of the Watch Tower branch office staff in Australia. A special delight for us was the dedication of our new quickly built Kingdom Hall, constructed June 22-24, 1990, next to the location of the old bombed-out hall. Christian love has overcome one man’s blind hatred.—As told by Peter and Sue Schulz.
a The Sydney Morning Herald, July 27, 1985.
[Pictures on page 10]
Recent photograph of Peter and Sue Schulz
Sue Schulz with her face wired to reshape it
[Picture on page 13]
The new and larger Kingdom Hall