WHY IS IT HAP­PEN­ING AGAIN?

A pat­tern emerges of ‘iso­lated acts of mad­ness’

Herald Sun - - TER­ROR ON BOURKE ST - PATRICK CAR­LYON patrick.car­lyon@news.com.au

THE so­cial me­dia footage is posted in min­utes. A man wield­ing a knife. Two po­lice of­fi­cers fend­ing him off. Two civil­ians are tak­ing cover, one bravely try­ing to block the at­tacker with a shop­ping trol­ley. Then a shot. BANG.

At the same time, Mel­bur­ni­ans on the street gulp at an­other sight. Down a grey laneway is a white mound, a body un­der a sheet. The quiet crowd has gath­ered at Rus­sell Place, a pass­ing swell of mourn­ers for an un­ex­pected loss. They don’t know who’s ly­ing there. But they do know that it isn’t right.

The body lies out­side the Tar­get Cen­tre on Bourke St at 5pm on a Fri­day, when trams should nor­mally rat­tle by and pedes­tri­ans should nor­mally bus­tle in their rush to start the week­end. Bourke St is empty, bar the po­lice.

David Jones is blocked off. Pedes­tri­ans must de­tour in long right an­gles to get from one block to the other. The Christ­mas star cel­e­bra­tions above Bourke Street Mall have dimmed to the flash­ing lights of emer­gency ser­vices.

Christ­mas seems like a mis­placed back­drop for the re­peated recorded po­lice mes­sages, in mil­i­taris­tic tones, warn­ing peo­ple to avoid the area. It’s hap­pen­ing again. The chop­pers. The con­fu­sion. Ob­servers don’t need all the facts to start draw­ing con­clu­sions.

“All too fre­quently,” said a friendly po­lice of­fi­cer, one of hun­dreds here cor­ralling the crowds. “This is hap­pen­ing all too fre­quently.”

Wit­nesses speak of their shock about 4.30pm. On the ground, af­ter­wards, the re­ports are con­flict­ing about a ute catch­ing fire. It may have been mov­ing at the time.

Some wit­nesses speak of three pops be­fore the car erupted into flames, oth­ers of a loud bang. There is talk of a bomb, or bombs, but no one re­ally knows as they stare at the burnt-out hulk perched oddly on the foot­path.

A man had ap­peared. He started stab­bing peo­ple. A man is seen cov­ered in blood, one of three to be in­jured, and he is treated im­me­di­ately af­ter the threat is sub­dued.

The fi­nal scene, as cap­tured on the so­cial me­dia footage, seem­ingly shows a po­lice of­fi­cer step­ping back­wards and pulling the trig­ger as he holds the gun with two hands.

In this mod­ern age, ev­ery­thing is recorded. The scene of the shoot­ing is recorded from three or more per­spec­tives. An in­ter­net sen­sa­tion be­comes a macabre hor­ror show when it emerges, a cou­ple of hours later, that the man shot in the footage has died in hos­pi­tal.

Wit­nesses speak of hero­ics — and chaos. Some by­standers had fled and hid in a kitchen. One tries to stop the as­sailant with a chair.

Some­one speaks of a “whole bunch” of civil­ians pil­ing in to help. One wit­ness starts film­ing: “He just looked like a nutjob. He just looked in­sane, like he was on drugs or some­thing.”

The scene un­folds in front of Drum­plings venue man­ager Ana Kostakos.

“There was a guy with the shop­ping trol­ley try­ing to help but every­body was run­ning in all direc­tions,” she says.

“Peo­ple were try­ing to help vic­tims be­cause he was just knif­ing at ran­dom. The se­cu­rity (guard) from the build­ing next door was also stabbed, but I saw he was sit­ting up so we know he sur­vived.”

The place of events is eerie enough — about 50m from the ram­page of James Gar­ga­soulas in Jan­uary, 2017. He turned left down Bourke St from Swanston St. This is to the right.

But just as sin­is­ter is the tim­ing. It is day two of the Gar­ga­soulas trial. He has pleaded not guilty to six counts of mur­der, amid a myr­iad of other charges, and the court has watched footage of what once seemed like un­know­able vi­o­lence in Mel­bourne. It has heard the de­fen­dant, said to be in a drug-in­duced psy­chosis, wants to ex­plain the events.

Po­lice have re­counted their ver­sions of try­ing to get Gar­ga­soulas to give him­self up, to avoid the car­nage that scarred the city’s emo­tional psy­che and led to bol­lards and other se­cu­rity mea­sures that once seemed un­nec­es­sary.

Vic­tims nat­u­rally want to know why it hap­pened. As they will with yes­ter­day’s events. The af­fected num­ber far be­yond the in­jured.

Ms Kostakos speaks of her trau­ma­tised staff, one man in par­tic­u­lar who’s just “dev­as­tated and it’s taken a while to keep him calm”.

Po­lice spoke of the ear­li­ness of their in­ves­ti­ga­tion, al­lud­ing to no known ter­ror­ist links. An hour later, more facts emerge. The as­sailant is a So­mali with known ter­ror­ist links.

But the fact of the in­ci­dent af­ter Bourke St and Flinders St in De­cem­ber last year, raises enough ques­tions in it­self.

Now, af­ter yes­ter­day af­ter­noon, there have been three un­pro­voked events in Mel­bourne’s city cen­tre in less than two years. Are they iso­lated acts of mad­ness? Or a pat­tern?

An ab­sence of un­der­stand­ing seems a long sen­tence — and a hefty price — for those who care about this won­der­ful city.

Clock­wise from main: po­lice cor­don off the cor­ner of Swanston and Bourke streets; po­lice talk to a wit­ness; a man re­ceives treat­ment; shop­pers flee the area; po­lice on pa­trol; a body lies un­der a sheet as a po­lice­man es­corts civil­ians from the area. Pic­tures: JOSH FA­GAN, DAVID CAIRD, JA­SON ED­WARDS

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