April 29, 1996 in Nation/World

Gunman Kills 32 People In Australia Police Capture Him As He Bolts In Flames From Burning Cottage

Rick Rycroft Associated Press
 

A gunman slaughtered at least 32 people at a popular tourist site and nearby pub Sunday. Police captured him Monday when he bolted in flames from a guest cottage, which he had torched with three hostages inside.

The gunman, whom police identified as a 29 year old with a history of psychological problems, had opened fire with an semiautomatic rifle Sunday afternoon on tourists at the ruins of a colonial prison on Tasmania.

Police indicated they expected to find the bodies of three more victims inside the guest cottage, where he took three hostages and held police at bay for 12 hours.

Witnesses said the incident began when the blond man drove up to the prison in a Volkswagen with a surfboard strapped on top and talked casually with some of the 500 people outside.

“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 Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

The man then walked into a cafe, pulled the rifle from a tennis bag, and methodically 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 Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

The gunman moved on to a nearby pub, shooting and killing more people. He seized a hostage at a gas station and stole a car to drive three miles to a bed-and-breakfast cottage, owned by a couple who apparently were friends of his late father.

By early Monday, more than 200 local and special police units had surrounded the guest house.

Police tried to negotiate by phone with the gunman, who fired two heavy caliber military-type rifles at them and at helicopters airlifting out the dead and wounded. He demanded a helicopter for himself.

When he set the cottage on fire, flames finally drove him from the building. He threw his rifle aside.

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

Exploding ammunition in the burning house prevented officers from rapidly searching it to learn the fate of the three hostages. “It doesn’t look very good,” Fielding said.

Police said 25 of those killed in the shooting spree were Australians, but the dead also included two Malaysians and a victim who appeared to be Indian. Four people weren’t identified.

Among the dead was an infant as well as two sisters, aged 3 and 6, and their mother.

One American and two Canadians were wounded along with at 15 others. Police said only that the American man, from Washington state, was not badly hurt.

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