Tiny flames flickered at the base of a simple wooden crucifix on Wednesday, one candle for each of the 35 people methodically slain by an enraged gunman as they visited a popular tourist site.
Hundreds of mourners prayed at Hobart’s St. David’s Anglican Cathedral for the victims, ages 3 to 72. And as residents of Tasmania grieve for the dead, their anger only grows toward the murder suspect.
Martin Bryant, 28, was badly burned in a house fire he set just before police arrested him. Now, under heavy police guard, he is being treated for burns in the same hospital that is caring for survivors of Australia’s worst massacre in modern times.
Hospital officials say people have called to complain that Bryant should not receive any medical treatment. In an act of protest, 20 nurses at the Royal Hobart Hospital called in sick Wednesday, hospital chief executive Lindsay Pyne said.
Doctors say Bryant, who was charged with murder at a bedside hearing, might require plastic surgery and could remain hospitalized for another week.
Wednesday’s tearful state service started with a minute’s silence observed throughout Australia, which includes the island of Tasmania 300 miles southeast of Melbourne.
At 10:30 a.m., streetcars stopped running, financial exchanges suspended trading and schools interrupted classes.
Inside the Anglican cathedral where the service was nationally broadcast live on TV, 800 friends, relatives and neighbors of the victims sat with the nation’s leaders. Some wept openly.
“The suddenness of the assault, the scope of the massacre, the senselessness of the carnage, have left us in deep shock and even anger,” Tasmania’s Anglican Bishop Phillip Newell said.
Before the service, Prime Minister John Howard, who has promised to tighten gun controls, visited the death scene, 30 miles south of Hobart.
“This is an event that has shaken the core of this country in a way that no individual crime has done in my lifetime,” Howard said.
Bryant is accused of shooting sightseers and staff at the picturesque Port Arthur colonial prison complex on Sunday, using high-powered assault weapons. He then barricaded himself inside a guest cottage with three hostages, setting fire to the house Monday morning.
Police say they captured Bryant when he fled the inn after his clothes caught on fire. The charred bodies of the hostages were found in the building’s ashes.
At the prison complex, yellow-painted outlines of bodies cover the road and pathways where victims fell.
Plans are being made to demolish a cafe where 20 people were killed. Workers at the site want it pulled down as soon as Bryant’s trial is over.
Even tiny children were not spared.
“In an afternoon my whole life has been erased,” said Walter Mikac of Hobart, whose wife Nanette and two daughters Alannah, 6, and Madeline, 3, were gunned down.
Mikac told Channel Nine television that he was sickened when he saw his family lying dead in pools of blood on a roadside. “How on earth am I going to keep living without them?” he said.