Horror returns to CBD as Christmas nears
On the day that Christmas festivities were to formally begin in Melbourne, death returned to Bourke Street.
Only this time, the horrific scenes were broadcast all but live on social media, as images of a flaming utility, a knife-wielding attacker and a police shot fired at point-blank range were uploaded by terrified shoppers and city workers.
How it began is less clear than how it ended.
It is about 4.10pm on a Friday. People are knocking off work a little early. Some are already heading out on the town.
The city is bubbling with the end of the spring racing carnival and the first blush of the holiday season. Myer is due to unveil its Christmas windows in a few hours. Instead, there is chaos. The first we see is a slow-moving image of a dark-blue Holden Rodeo ute, its twin cab spewing flames and smoke, ghosting down the Bourke Street hill towards the pedestrian mall where Dimitri Gargasoulas allegedly began his homicidal rampage nearly two years ago. By the time we see the burning vehicle come to a rest at the kerb, its driver’s door flung open, by the time witnesses hear gas cylinders exploding, the worst has happened. The driver has already killed.
Alex Dickinson was on his way to the hairdresser when the attack unfolded. He watched a man approach the burning ute, perhaps to see if anyone was trapped inside. He watched a tall, dark-skinned man suddenly emerge, a kitchen knife in his hand. Before the bystander knew what was happen- ing, the driver plunged the blade into his chest. The man stumbled for a couple of steps and then collapsed on the bitumen. He bled to death, face down on the ground.
He will never know it but his actions may well have disrupted a far worse terror attack.
Another man was stabbed in the neck. Covered in blood, he was seen running up the Bourke Street hill before he, too, collapsed on the ground. He was rushed to hospital. So far, he has survived. A third person was also stabbed and taken to hospital.
By the time police confront the attacker, Bourke Street is bedlam. From multiple videos captured on mobile phones, we see the man lunging at officers with the knife. We see civilians joining the fight. One is armed with a shopping trolley, another with a chair.
The man with the trolley tries to ram the attacker but trips over his own feet, sending the trolley crashing to the ground, its wheels spinning. He gets up, uprights the trolley and sends it barrelling back into the fracas. Another man rushes towards the attacker with a chair raised over his head.
The attacker, however, is fixated on two officers who are trying to get him away from shoppers. He lunges at one three times, the knife gripped in his right hand, slashing downwards. The officer raises his arm to protect himself.
When the attacker turns to the second officer, he looks straight down the barrel of a semi-automatic Glock handgun.
The videos don’t capture what the policeman says but, whatever his instructions, the attacker is deaf to reason. He raises the knife again, the officer shoots him in the chest from less than a metre away.
The crack of gunfire brings screams from shoppers. The impact of the bullet knocks the attacker off his feet. An unmarked police car arrives, and the attacker is disarmed and hogtied by two plainclothes officers. He is taken into custody but doesn’t survive his wounds.
Daniel Rachbuch, a commerce student who happened to be walking through the city when the carnage unfolded, captured the attacker’s confrontation with police on his mobile phone from about 20m away. He heard him yelling at the police officers but couldn’t make out what he said.
Rachbuch was in Barcelona last August when Younes Abouyaaqoub, 22, drove a van down La Rambla, killing 13 people. He has now witnessed terror in the heart of Melbourne.
“It makes me think that we need to put the right blockades in place where a lot of civilians walk because the way the world is moving, it’s scary to say the least,’’ he says. “We need to do the best we can to defend good citizens.’’
Bourke Street is already a fortress of vehicle-stopping bollards. Whatever weaknesses there were in the city’s defences in January 2017, when Bourke Street hosted its first deadly rampage, they have since been bolstered.
As Christmas nears, all major Australian and European cities approach peak terror season. Not for the first time, and most likely not for the last time, Melbourne is left scrambling to make sense of random murder in its streets.
Clockwise from main: The attacker clutches his chest in the split second after a police officer opens fire to bring the Bourke Street carnage to an end; special operations police arrive; a man is treated by ambulance officers; a body lies in the street after the attack. Below, paramedics treat the attacker