Saturday, April 28, 2007

April 28

Today is the anniversary of the 1996 Port Arthur Massacre, when 28-year-old Martin Bryant killed 35 people at a popular Tasmanian tourist site.

Socially inept and detached since childhood. Martin Bryant was regarded with caution by nearly everyone who knew him. After shacking up in his early 20s with an eccentric middle-aged heiress to the Tatersall’s Lottery fortune, Bryant inherited her estate when she died in a car accident. Suddenly rich, Bryant used his dead friend’s cash to travel the world over the next few years. Hoping a long last to make friends, he found that most people were reluctant to chat with him because of his creepy demeanor; according to some of his acquaintances and family members, his adventures abroad disappointed him greatly and increased his sense of isolation. Returning to Australia, Bryant’s developed an intense fascination with guns and eventually bought several semiautomatic weapons from an unlicensed dealer in Hobart, the Tasmanian capital.

On 28 April 1996, Bryant snapped at long last. After eating lunch at the Broad Arrow Café, Bryant retrieved his weapons from a large duffel bag and shot 20 people in a matter of minutes. Proceeding to the parking lot, he wounded and killed several other tourists before escaping in his Yellow Volvo. As he drove from the site of Australia’s most brutal 19th century prison colony, Bryant stopped along the road to shoot nearly a dozen more people before taking a hostage -- whom he later killed -- and sequestering himself inside a guesthouse called the Seascape Cottage, whose owners he had already shot prior to the mass assault at the cafe. As the hours passed, police from Victoria and New South Wales descended on Port Arthur. The siege became the largest single police action in the nation’s history.

Early the next morning, after police failed to persuade Bryant to surrender, Australia’s greatest mass murderer set fire to the cottage. Pulled from the blaze and arrested, a severely burned Martin Bryant eventually received 35 consecutive life sentences.

Bryant has never precisely explained his motives for embarking on the spree. Asked once by police interviewers to explain himself, Bryant responded that "I'd really love to help you out, but I can't." Whatever his rationale, he was most certainly not celebrating the birthday of Saddam Hussein, who turned 59 that day.