Today In History: 28 April 1996 – Port Arthur Massacre, Lone Gunman Kills 35 and Wounds 23
The Port Arthur massacre of 28–29 April 1996 was a mass shooting in which 35 people were killed and 23 others were wounded in Tasmania. The murderer, Martin Bryant, pleaded guilty and was given 35 life sentences without the possibility of parole.
The 1996 Port Arthur massacre shook Australia to its core, and triggered gun reforms that research suggest has been effective in reducing gun crime.
The case is the worst massacre in modern Australia committed by a single person.
The main location of the incident was the historic Port Arthur former prison colony, a popular tourist site in south-eastern Tasmania, Australia.
In 1992, Martin Bryant, then 25, was bequeathed about $570,000 in property and assets by a friend, Helen Harvey, who left her estate to him following her death in a car crash. He used part of this money to go on many trips around the world from 1993 onwards.
Bryant’s father had tried to purchase a bed and breakfast property called Seascape, but another couple – Noelene (also known as Sally) and David Martin – bought the property before his father could ready his finances.
Bryant’s father is said to have been disappointed and often complained to his son of the “double dealing” the Martins had done to secure the purchase. Bryant’s father then offered to buy another property from Noelene and David Martin at Palmers Lookout Road, but they declined the offer.
Bryant apparently believed the Martins had deliberately bought the property to hurt his family and believed this event to be responsible for the depression that led to his father’s 1993 suicide. Bryant later described the Martins as “very mean people” and as “the worse people in my life”.
In late 1995, Bryant became suicidal after deciding he had “had enough”. He stated, “I just felt more people were against me. When I tried to be friendly toward them, they just walked away”.
Although he had previously been little more than a social drinker, his alcohol consumption increased and, although he had not consumed any alcohol on that day, had especially escalated in the six months prior to the massacre. According to Bryant, the plan for Port Arthur may have first occurred to him four to twelve weeks before the event.
The Events of the Day
The events of this day were pieced together after investigation by police, then presented in court on 19 November 1996.
A couple stopped at Seascape and Bryant met them outside. When they asked if they could have a look at the accommodation, Bryant told them that they could not because his parents were away and his girlfriend was inside. His demeanour was described as quite rude and the couple felt uncomfortable. They left at about 12:35 pm.
Bryant drove to Port Arthur, taking the keys to the Seascape properties after locking the doors. Bryant stopped at a car which had pulled over due to overheating and talked with two people there. He suggested that they come to the Port Arthur café for some coffee later.
He travelled past the Port Arthur historic site towards a Palmer’s Lookout Road property owned by the Martins, where he came across Roger Larner. Larner had met him on some occasions more than 15 years previously. Bryant told Larner he had been surfing and had bought a property called Fogg Lodge and was now looking to buy some cattle from Larner. Bryant also made several comments about buying the Martins’ place next door. He asked if Marian Larner was home and asked if he could continue down the driveway of the farm to see her. Larner said OK but told Bryant he would come also. “Bryant then responded that he might go to Nubeena first” and he was going to return in the afternoon.
Port Arthur Historic Site
Broad Arrow Café murders
The café was very small, and was particularly busy that day as many people waited for the next ferry. Bryant pointed his rifle to the table beside him, fatally shooting Moh Yee (William) Ng and Sou Leng Chung, who were visiting from Malaysia. Bryant then fired a shot at Mick Sargent, grazing his scalp and knocking him to the floor. He then fatally shot Sargent’s girlfriend, 21-year-old Kate Elizabeth Scott, hitting her in the back of the head.
A 28-year-old New Zealand winemaker, Jason Winter, had been helping the busy café staff. As Bryant turned towards Winter’s wife Joanne and their 15-month-old son Mitchell, Winter threw a serving tray at Bryant in an attempt to distract him. Joanne Winter’s father pushed his daughter and grandson to the floor and under the table.
Bryant fired one shot that killed Kevin Vincent Sharp, 68. He then fired another shot at Walter Bennett, 66, which passed through his body and struck Raymond John Sharp, 67, Kevin Sharp’s brother, killing both. The three had their backs towards Bryant, and were unaware what was happening . The shots were all at close range. Gerald Broome, Gaye Fidler and her husband John Fidley were all struck by bullet fragments, but survived.
Bryant then turned towards Tony and Sarah Kistan and Andrew Mills. Thelma Walker and Pamela Law were injured by fragments before being dragged to the ground by their friend, Peter Crosswell, as the three sheltered underneath the table. Also injured by fragments from these shots was Patricia Barker.
Bryant moved just a few metres and began shooting at the table where Graham Colyer, Carolyn Loughton and her daughter Sarah were seated. Colyer was shot in the jaw. Sarah Loughton ran towards her mother, who had been moving between tables. Carolyn Loughton threw herself on top of her daughter. Bryant shot Carolyn Loughton in the back; her eardrum was ruptured by the muzzle blast from the gun going off beside her ear. Despite Carolyn’s efforts, Sarah had been fatally shot in the head.
Bryant pivoted around and fatally shot Mervyn Howard. The bullet passed through him, through a window of the café, and hit a table on the outside balcony. Bryant then fatally shot Mervyn Howard’s wife, Mary Howard in the head and neck.
Bryant was near the exit, preventing others from attempting to run past him and escape. Bryant moved across the café towards the gift shop area. As Bryant moved, Robert Elliott stood up. He was shot in the arm and head, though survived his injuries.
From the first shot, all of these events took approximately fifteen seconds, during which Bryant fired seventeen shots, killed twelve people, and wounded ten more.
Gift shop murders
As Bryant moved towards the gift shop area, many used the time to hide under tables and behind shop displays. He fatally shot the two local women who worked in the gift shop: 17-year-old Nicole Burgess, in the head, and 26-year-old Elizabeth Howard, in the arm and chest.
Coralee Lever and Vera Jary hid behind a hessian (burlap) screen with others. Lever’s husband Dennis was fatally shot in the head. Pauline Masters, Vera Jary’s husband Ronald, and Peter and Carolyn Nash had attempted to escape through a locked door but could not open it. Peter Nash lay down on top of his wife to hide her from the gunman. Gwen Neander, trying to make it to the door, was shot in the head and killed.
Bryant saw movement in the café and moved near the front door. He shot at a table and hit Peter Crosswell, who was hiding under it, in the buttock. Jason Winter, hiding in the gift shop, thought Bryant had left the building and made a comment about it to people near him before moving out into the open. Bryant saw him, with Winter exclaiming, “No, no” just prior to being shot, the bullet hitting his hand, neck and chest. Winter was then fatally shot in the head. Fragments from those shots struck American tourist Dennis Olson, who had been hiding with his wife Mary and Winter. Dennis Olson suffered fragment injuries to his hand, scalp, eye and chest, but survived.
It is not immediately clear what happened next, although at some point, Bryant reloaded his weapon. Bryant walked back to the café and then returned to the gift shop, where he fatally shot Ronald Jary, Peter Nash and Pauline Masters. He did not see Carolyn Nash, who was lying under her husband. Bryant aimed his gun at an unidentified Asian man, but the rifle’s magazine was empty. Bryant then moved to the gift shop counter, where he reloaded his rifle, leaving an empty magazine on the service counter, and left the building.
In the gift shop combined, he fired twelve shots, killed eight people, and wounded two more.
Combined, he had fired 29 shots, killed 20 people and wounded 12.
Car park murders
Bryant then moved towards the coaches. One of the coach drivers, Royce Thompson, was shot in the back as he was moving along the passengers’ side of a coach. He fell to the ground and was able to crawl under the bus, but later died of his wounds. Brigid Cook was trying to guide people down between the buses and along the jetty area to cover. Bryant moved to the front of this bus and walked across to the next coach. People had quickly moved from this coach towards the back end, in an attempt to seek cover. As Bryant walked around it, he saw people trying to hide and shot at them. Cook was shot in the right thigh, causing the bone to fragment, the bullet lodging there.
Bryant then quickly moved around another coach and fired at another group of people. Winifred Aplin, running to get to cover behind another coach, was fatally shot in the side. Another bullet grazed Yvonne Lockley’s cheek, but she was able to enter one of the coaches to hide, and survived.
Some people then started moving away from the car park towards the jetty. However, someone shouted that Bryant was heading that way, so they doubled back around the coaches to where Brigid Cook had been shot. Bryant then moved to where Janet and Neville Quin, who owned a wildlife park on the east coast of Tasmania, were beginning to move away from the buses. Bryant shot Janet Quin in the back, where she fell, unable to move, near Royce Thompson.
Bryant then continued along the car park as people tried to escape along the shore. Doug Hutchinson was attempting to get into a coach when he was shot in the arm.
Bryant then went to his vehicle, which was just past the coaches, and exchanged his weapon for a self-loading rifle.
Bryant moved back to the buses where Janet Quin lay injured from the earlier shot. He then fatally shot her in the back. Bryant then went onto one of the coaches and fatally shot Elva Gaylard in the arm and chest. At an adjacent coach, Gordon Francis saw what happened and moved down the aisle to try to shut the door of the coach he was on. He was seen by Bryant and shot from the opposite coach. He survived, but needed four major operations.
Neville Quin, husband of Janet, had escaped to the jetty area, but returned to look for his wife. He had been forced to leave her earlier after Bryant shot her. Bryant exited the coach and, spotting Quin, chased him around the coaches. Bryant fired at him at least twice before Quin ran onto a coach. Bryant entered the coach and pointed the gun at Neville Quin’s face, saying, “No one gets away from me”. Quin ducked when he realised Bryant was about to pull the trigger. The bullet missed his head but hit his neck, momentarily paralysing him.
Toll booth murders and carjacking
Ahead of him were Nanette Mikac and her children, Madeline, 3, and Alannah, 6. Nanette was carrying Madeline, and Alannah was running slightly ahead. By this point, they had run approximately 600 metres (660 yards) from the car park. Bryant opened his door and slowed down. Nanette Mikac moved towards the car, apparently thinking he was offering help. Bryant stepped out of the car, and told Nanette Mikac to get on her knees. She did so, and Bryant fatally shot her in the temple. He then fatally shot Madeline and Alannah.
Bryant drove up to the toll booth, where there were several vehicles, and blocked a 1980 BMW 7 Series owned by Mary Rose Nixon. Inside were Nixon, driver Russell James Pollard and passengers Helene and Robert Graham Salzmann. An argument with Robert Salzmann ensued, and Bryant took out his rifle and fatally shot him. Russel James Pollard emerged from the BMW and moved towards Bryant before being fatally shot in the chest. Bryant then moved to the BMW and fatally shot Mary Rose Nixon and Helene Salzmann before removing them from the car. Bryant transferred ammunition, handcuffs, the AR-15 rifle and a fuel container to the BMW.
Another car then came towards the toll booth and Bryant shot at it.
Service station murder and abduction
Bryant drove up to the service station and cut off a white Toyota Corolla that was attempting to exit onto the highway. Glenn Pears was driving, with girlfriend Zoe Hall in the passenger seat. Bryant quickly exited the car with his rifle in hand and tried to pull Hall from the car. Pears got out of the car and approached Bryant. Bryant pointed the gun at Pears and pushed him backwards, eventually directing him into the now open boot of the BMW, locking Pears inside.
Bryant then moved back to the passenger side of the Corolla as Zoe Hall attempted to climb over to the driver’s seat. Bryant raised his rifle and fired three shots, killing her.
As Bryant drove down to Seascape, he shot at a red For Falcon coming the other way, smashing its front windscreen. Upon arriving at Seascape, he got out of his car. A Holden Frontera 4WD vehicle then approached Seascape along the road. Those in the vehicle saw Bryant with his gun, but believed him to be rabbit hunting and slowed down as they passed him. Bryant fired into the car; the first bullet hit the bonnet and broke the throttle cable. He fired at least twice more into the car as it passed, breaking the windows. One bullet hit the driver, Linda White, in the arm.
Another vehicle then drove down the road, carrying four people. It was not until they were almost adjacent to Bryant that they realised he was carrying a gun. Bryant shot at the car, smashing the windscreen. Douglas Horner was wounded by pieces of the windscreen. The car proceeded ahead where White and Wanders tried to get in, but Horner did not realise the situation and drove on. When they saw that White had been shot, they came back and picked them up. Both parties then continued down to a local establishment called the Fox and Hound, where they called police.
Yet another car drove past and Bryant shot at it, hitting the passenger, Susan Williams, in the hand. The driver, Simon Williams, was struck by fragments.
Sometime after he stopped, Bryant removed Glenn Pears from the boot and handcuffed him to a stair rail within the house. At some point, he also set the BMW on fire.
Capture on 29 April
Bryant was captured the following morning, when a fire started in the guest house, presumably set by Bryant.
It was discovered that Glenn Pears had been shot during or before the standoff and had died before the fire. The remains of the Martins were also found.