On this day in 1996, 28-year-old Martin Bryant begins a killing spree that ends in the deaths of 35 men, women and children in the quiet town of Port Arthur in Tasmania, Australia.
Bryant, who is believed to have an extremely low IQ and may be mentally handicapped, began the day by killing an elderly couple who were the owners of Port Arthur’s Seascape guesthouse. Some theorize that the killings were Bryant’s retaliation for the owners refusing to sell his father the guesthouse. Bryant’s father later committed suicide, an action Bryant is said to have blamed on his depression over not being able to buy the property.
After having lunch on the deck of the Broad Arrow Cafe, located at the site of the historic Port Arthur prison colony, a tourist destination, Bryant entered the restaurant, removed a Colt AR-15 rifle from his bag, and began shooting. After killing 22 people in rapid succession, Bryant left the restaurant for the parking lot, where he continued his shooting spree, killing the drivers of two tour buses, some of their passengers and a mother and her two small children, among others.
On his way out of the parking lot, he shot four people in a BMW and drove the car to a nearby gas station, where he shot one woman and took a man hostage, before driving back to the Seascape guesthouse. After an 18-hour stand-off with police, Bryant set the guesthouse on fire, ran outside and was captured. He had apparently killed the hostage sometime earlier.
Bryant initially pled not-guilty to the 35 murders, but changed his plea and was sentenced to life in prison, never to be released, Australia’s maximum sentence. The Broad Arrow Cafe and its environs were turned into a place for reflection and a memorial.
People across Australia and the world were horrified by Bryant’s actions. In the hopes of preventing similar crimes, gun-control laws in many areas of Australia were significantly strengthened in the aftermath of the tragedy.