Massacre at Port Arthur—Why Did It Happen?
BY AWAKE! CORRESPONDENT IN AUSTRALIA
SUNDAY afternoon, April 28, 1996, the weather was delightful at the Port Arthur Historical Site, a popular tourist center in Tasmania, Australia. The Broad Arrow Café was crowded with people eating lunch. At about 1:30 p.m., a 28-year-old blond-haired young man who had finished eating on the café’s outdoor deck entered the building and began shooting.
Patrons slumped dead in their chairs, food still in their mouths. Police said it was “like the carnage of a battlefield.” When the gunman believed all were dead—he had slaughtered 20—he calmly walked outside. In seconds, he had committed more murders than had occurred during the preceding four years in the whole island state of Tasmania!
Yet, the gunman continued his killing spree, methodically executing victims. For example, en route to the exit of the historical site, he saw Nanett Mikac with her little girls. He killed Nanett and her three-year-old. Then, as the six-year-old tried to escape, he stalked her and shot her dead as she cowered behind a tree.
Afterward, at the tollbooth at the exit of the historical site, the gunman killed three occupants of a BMW (car) and took the car. A little distance farther, he came upon a couple in another car. He forced the man into the trunk of the BMW and murdered the man’s woman companion. Next, he drove a short distance to the Seascape Cottage guesthouse—arriving at about 2:00 p.m. There, he set fire to the BMW and held hostage the kidnapped man and the elderly couple who owned the guesthouse. He had killed 12 people since leaving the café, raising the death toll to 32. Many others had been wounded.
Sunday Afternoon Preaching
In the meantime, Jenny Ziegler and her family, part of the Port Arthur Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, met at 1:30 p.m. in preparation for sharing in the ministry. The family then headed toward the Port Arthur Historical Site. Jenny wanted to call on David Martin, the friendly owner of the Seascape Cottage guesthouse. Earlier, she and another Christian sister had enjoyed a Bible discussion with him.
A little after 2:00 p.m., as Jenny, her husband, and their children approached the guesthouse, they noticed smoke coming from a burning car on the lawn. Police officers stopped them and told them to return the way they had come. “Things began to take on an air of foreboding for us,” Jenny noted. “The roads seemed strangely deserted.”
However, still unaware that anything was really wrong, the family turned off the highway to go to a little beach to carry on their planned preaching activity. There, all appeared normal: Children were swimming, people were walking along the far end of the beach, and an elderly couple were sitting in their car reading. “My husband approached them, and a pleasant conversation followed,” Jenny said. “He informed them that there seemed to be a problem along the highway and suggested that when leaving the beach, they do so by another route. I spoke briefly to a young man, and we left shortly afterward.”
The Zieglers continued on the road toward the Port Arthur Historical Site. “Here, blocking the entrance to the site,” Jenny explained, “were several cars. Later we learned that they blocked from view the bodies of people who had been shot. A man informed us: ‘A bloke’s run amok with a gun; maybe 15 dead!’ We were advised to leave immediately.”
A Horrible End to It
The ordeal was far from over, as Jenny noted: “The drive home was nerve-racking because we didn’t know where the gunman was. Each time we met another car on the road, we wondered whether he was in it. Even when we reached home safely, we felt vulnerable, since we live in an isolated area where a person with knowledge of the local terrain could easily hide. Since our Christian brothers and sisters knew where we had headed that afternoon, we immediately began receiving calls to check on our safety.
“As we thought about what had happened, we realized that if we had arrived to visit the guesthouse owner a few minutes earlier, we could have been among those slain. It chilled us to think that the killer might even have had us in his rifle sights as we talked to the police there!”
More than 200 police eventually surrounded the guesthouse that Sunday night, keeping low to avoid the gunman’s occasional volley of bullets. He apparently demanded a helicopter to make his escape, but during the night negotiations broke down. At about 8:00 a.m. on Monday, smoke was seen coming from the house. The gunman got out alive, although he suffered burns. The three hostages, including the guesthouse owner the Zieglers had attempted to visit, were later found dead in the incinerated remains of the house, raising the death toll to 35.
Why Did It Happen?
About seven weeks earlier, on March 13, a gunman in Dunblane, Scotland, had entered a school gymnasium and gunned down 16 small children and their teacher. In keeping with an old television news maxim, “If it bleeds, it leads,” this became an international news event. Some behavioral experts suggested that the Australian gunman may have been trying to exceed the death count of the Dunblane murders. Significantly, in the United States, the so-called Zodiac killer, who had for years terrorized New York City, said that he had tried to exceed other slayers that he had read about.
Another factor that many say contributes to the epidemic of killings is the sex and violence depicted in films and videos. Australia’s Herald Sun reported: “A total of 2000 violent and pornographic videos have been confiscated from the house of alleged Port Arthur mass murderer Martin Bryant. . . . The discovery of the video cache came as the focus turned to the role of violent movies in the Port Arthur massacre.” Similarly, the New York Daily News reported that “two boxes of pornographic videos lay on the single bed” of the confessed Zodiac killer.
When the Port Arthur massacre became known, some television stations immediately changed their scheduled programs. Afterward, columnist Penelope Layland wrote the article “Hypocrisy of TV on Violence and Grief” and noted: “In a way, pulling those violent shows was like a token one-minute silence. Tomorrow, next week, next month, it will be business as usual.”
However, to gain greater insight into why violence is now so prevalent, we need to turn to the Bible. It long ago foretold that “in the last days critical times hard to deal with will be here. For men will be . . . without self-control, fierce, without love of goodness.” (2 Timothy 3:1-5) Thus, today’s increase in violence only adds to the evidence that we are in the last days and that the end of this system of things is near.—Matthew 24:3-14.
As many may suspect, the demons—wicked invisible spirit forces—are involved in the epidemic of savage, inhuman behavior. (Ephesians 6:12) After describing the ousting of Satan the Devil and his demons from heaven, the Bible says: “Woe for the earth and for the sea, because the Devil has come down to you, having great anger, knowing he has a short period of time.” (Revelation 12:7-9, 12) We are in that period of woe right now, and Satan and his demons are using whatever means they can to urge humans to commit increased acts of violence.
Yet, Satan, his demons, and their wicked world will soon be gone, and the rule of God’s Kingdom will usher in a new world of righteousness. (Daniel 2:44; Matthew 6:9, 10; 2 Peter 3:13; 1 John 2:17; Revelation 21:3, 4) Jenny noted: “At the moment, we are ‘weeping with people who weep,’ but it is our desire to share our Kingdom hope with those in the community who have been deeply shocked by this tragedy.”—Romans 12:15.
[Picture on page 17]
The Broad Arrow Café, where the massacre began
[Map Credit Line on page 16]
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