|“||There's a lot of wasps about today.||”|
Martin John Bryant (not to be confused with the British computer programmer of the same name) was an Australian spree killer, family annihilator, and one-time abductor who committed one of the deadliest shootings worldwide, mostly at the Port Arthur historic site.
Born in Tasmania, Australia, as the firstborn to Maurice and Carleen Bryant, Bryant was known to be a strange person even at an early age, with his temper being unmanageable and his focus always distant. At sixteen months of age, he had a habit of running and escaping from his mother, making it difficult for her to raise him. A violent and disruptive child, he was frequently bullied at school and he was known for causing trouble himself. In one instance of the latter, he pulled a snorkel away from another boy while they were diving; in another, he cut down a neighbor's trees. Bryant was soon suspended from elementary school in 1977 and came to attend a special-education unit at high school, where he continued to deteriorate academically and behaviorally. At elementary school, Bryant was found to possess a low IQ of 66 and was possibly autistic. At the age of 14, he was given an air rifle by Maurice, which he enjoyed using, frequently using it to shoot at traffic from a distance and allegedly to brutally kill a parrot. He was briefly suspected of murdering his father due to his emotional detachment and actual enjoyment of searching for the missing Maurice, but all charges were dropped when it turned out that Maurice committed suicide. At the age of 19, Bryant met the wealthy Helen Harvey, who hired him as her handyman. The two developed a bond sometimes viewed upon as being more than "a working relationship", with Helen taking Bryant out for shopping and spending thousands of dollars on him. Among the things purchased were more than thirty cars, all bought in less than three years.
After Helen's mother, Hilza, died of poor health conditions from the house, Helen invited Bryant over to live with her. The two then moved to live in the country, at a small town called Copping. At this point, his behavior became alarmingly erratic. Despite this, Bryant lived happily under Helen's care, though their relationship was viewed negatively by the other locals, who had come to fear Bryant for his eccentric actions. Eventually, on October 20, 1992, Helen was killed in a deadly car accident that appeared to have been caused by Bryant himself. As a result of Helen's death, he inherited her estate and a sum of $500,000, which he used on mostly his many trips, all of which occurred within a three-year span, beginning in 1993. Helen's loss struck him hard and he made unsuccessful attempts at making new friends, usually targeting younger children. He also sought psychiatric treatment, to which he was prescribed Prothiaden, a tricyclic antidepressant. In late 1993, Bryant used at least some of the money to buy an AR-10 semiautomatic rifle through a Tasmania newspaper ad. He also attempted to find an AR-15 rifle in several other gun shops. At some unspecified point, Bryant was finally able to legally purchase an AR-15, along with an L1A1 Self-Loading Rifle battle rifle and a USAS-12 automatic shotgun. Just months prior to the massacre, Bryant visited the Port Arthur historic site and purchased a large sports bag large enough to carry a large amount of ammunition, devotedly measuring several before settling on one. These visits to Port Arthur before the shooting suggests that the assault to follow was premeditated. On March 13, 1996, just weeks prior to the massacre, a 43-year-old suspected pedophile living in the Scottish town of Dunblane, named Thomas Hamilton, opened fire at the Dunblane Primary School, killing sixteen children and one teacher before committing suicide. Media coverage of the event was presumed to have been the trigger for Bryant to act.
The Port Arthur Massacre
On April 28, 1996, Bryant was awakened by his alarm clock at 6:00 a.m. During interviews following the massacre, his current girlfriend and other family members stated that he never used the alarm clock. Two hours after, Bryant's girlfriend, who was spending the night with him, left the house to visit her parents. A short time later, Bryant left as well, with his weapons and his sports bag, the latter of which was carrying ammunition. He drove around the area in a yellow Volvo 244GL sedan, purchasing a cigarette lighter, a bottle of tomato sauce, a cup of coffee, and $15 worth of petrol. During the latter two purchases, he told both attendants that he was going out surfing, despite the calm day that made surfing conditions extremely poor. By 11:45 a.m., Bryant arrived at a property called Seascape Cottage, which Martin's father had attempted to purchase prior, only for the property to be bought by a couple named David and Noelene Martin first, an act that sparked outrage from Bryant. He walked inside the Seascape Cottage and murdered both Martins before leaving to Port Arthur.
Around 1:30 p.m., he arrived at Port Arthur, parked his Volvo, and entered the site's Broad Arrow Café, which had at least sixty to seventy people inside. Purchasing a large meal and eating it on the outside deck, he began chatting up other visitors, commenting on European wasps in the area and the lack of Japanese tourists. After finishing his meal, Bryant walked back inside the café, returned his tray, set down his sports bag, and pulled out his AR-15 rifle, opening fire on two Malaysian tourists, Moh Yee Ng and Sou Leng Chung; both of them were killed instantly. Approximately fifteen seconds later, ten more people were shot and killed with an additional ten wounded, several seriously, with just seventeen fired rounds. Bryant then walked toward the gift shop; there, he murdered eight more victims and slightly injured an additional two more with the remaining twelve bullets in his rifle magazine. Outside in the parking lot, people gathered around the café, hearing the gunshots but believing it to be a historical reenactment. Bryant took this advantage to walk outside and open fire on the crowd, killing four and injuring six. It was at that point that he switched firearms to the L1A1 SLR.With a total of 24 dead and 18 injured, Bryant went inside his Volvo, started the engine, and drove off 300 yards down the road, towards the toll booth. There, he saw a young woman, Nanette Mikac, and her two children Madeline and Alannah, pulled to a stop next to them, walked out, and held them at gunpoint. He instantly killed Nanette and Madeline, while Alannah attempted to flee, but Bryant was able to catch up and kill her with a single shot to the neck. Bryant then reentered his Volvo and drove down an additional 200 yards to the toll booth, where he encountered a gold BMW, blocking it off. Briefly arguing with one of the car's occupants as a result, Bryant then murdered him, then the BMW's driver and two other occupants, before transferring several ammunition, a set of handcuffs, the AR-15, and the container of petrol he purchased into the BMW. After injuring an incoming motorist, Bryant then drove off in the BMW, leaving behind his Volvo, which still contained his USAS-12 and hundreds more ammunition.
Exiting Port Arthur, Bryant then drove up to a nearby service station and cut off a white Toyota Corolla that contained Glenn Pears and his girlfriend Zoe Hall. Bryant walked up to the Toyota, forced Pears out of the car and into the trunk of the BMW, and fired three shots that struck Hall and killed her. With Pears as a hostage, Bryant drove away from the service station and down the roadway to Seascape Cottage, where he injured four motorists coming the opposite way. Eventually arriving at the cottage by 2:00 p.m., he forced Pears out of the BMW's trunk and into the cottage, where he cuffed him to a stair rail, then set the BMW on fire with the petrol. Two officers responding to the Seascape roadway shootings, Paul Hyland and Garry Whittle, then arrived and were fired upon by Bryant, who forced them into a nearby ditch. They weren't hit, but every time they attempted to move their position, Bryant would instantly open fire again, therefore trapping them.
Standoff, Capture, and Incarceration
At around 2:10 p.m., Bryant received a call from a woman working for the ABC network who had heard about the Port Arthur shootings and tried receiving information about the event from local businesses. Calling himself Jamie, Bryant answered several questions before threatening to kill Pears should she call again. He then called the local police station, his call being answered by the girlfriend of one of the police officers he fired upon earlier. He told her that her boyfriend was okay and also called himself Jamie. At 9:00 p.m., a Special Operations Group of the Tasmania Police team arrived, rescued the policemen in the ditch, and began negotiations with Bryant, who continued to call himself Jamie. The team refused to open fire in fear of hitting the three hostages: Pears and the Martin couple (who were believed to have been alive and held captive at the time). It was believed that during negotiations (or possibly sometime before), Bryant shot and killed Pears. In a presumed attempt to escape, Bryant started a fire in the cottage's guest house the next day, taunting police to "come and get him". Eventually, the fire caught onto his clothes and he ran outside towards police, who arrested him after he took off his flaming clothes and admitted him into a local hospital for treatment of burns.
During subsequent interviews, Bryant described the details of the shooting from his own point of view to the police, but the details were altered, suggesting that he was either lying or mentally incapable of accurately recalling the events. During his trial, Bryant initially pleaded not guilty to all 35 murders charged against him, but then changed his plea to guilty without providing a confession. He was found guilty of all charges and sentenced to 35 consecutive life sentences, one for each murder victim, plus 1,035 additional years for attempted murder and inflicting grievous physical harm to numerous people. He was to spend his time at Hobart's Risdon Prison. Bryant is notable for being the first killer to be sentenced without the possibility of parole, as most murder sentences allow parole after even long-term sentences. Because of the other inmates stating possible plans to kill him during his incarceration, Bryant was put into a specially-built cell in a near-solitary confinement unit in the prison. During his incarceration (and later institutionalization), he attempted suicide a total of eight times, the most recent attempt occurring on March 27, 2007, where he slashed his throat with a razorblade, forcing him to be briefly hospitalized before being returned to prison.
Bryant's motive for the massacre remains a closely-guarded secret, in which only his lawyer was aware of the real reason. As said above, it appears that media coverage of the Dunblane massacre prompted him to act; this was according to a book released by Bryant's lawyer. It also appears that he merely wanted to achieve a large amount of deceased victims for his own sake, as he continuously asked how many people he killed during the shooting upon his arrest and was impressed by the final number of 35. The Port Arthur historic site was eventually reopened and a new restaurant was built. The Broad Arrow Café, where most of the victims were shot, was rebuilt into a memorial. The community at Port Arthur also established a sort of kinship with the town of Dunblane, which was still reeling from the Dunblane massacre, and the two communities voluntarily exchanged items to aid for their respective memorials. The murders of the Mikac family prompted Dr. Phil West to set up a foundation, called the Alannah and Madeline Foundation, which supports children who were the victims of violence and also runs a national anti-bullying program.
Due to the weapons used during the massacre and the fact that Bryant, an individual with a particularly violent history, was able to purchase some easily and legally, the Australian government established new laws that heavily restricted the availability of firearms. Legal ownership and use of self-loading rifles, self-loading shotguns, and pump-action shotguns were either banned or heavily restricted. A "buy-back" scheme was also initiated by the government, in which some 643,000 firearms were handed back at a cost of $350 million. However, there was some controversy over the new gun laws, with fringe groups such as the Aussi Freedom Scouts, the Australian League of Rights, and the Citizen Initiated Referendum Party expressing their fury against the changes. The gun laws were passed anyway, since the Christian Coalition and the U.S. National Rifle Association were among those supporting them.
A number of conspiracy theories have arisen after the massacre, more than any other mass shooting in world history until the conspiracy theories of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. None of the following theories have yet to be confirmed as true:
- Many have cited Australian politicians making predictions that only a massacre involving dozens of fatalities would spark a massive gun-control legislation, for there were a number of deadly mass shootings prior to the Port Arthur massacre.
- Several hospitals in Tasmania had put emergency plans into place days before the massacre, that helicopter pilots were readily available on the day of the massacre, that a 22-body morgue track was recently made available in Port Arthur, and that a number of news reporters were already present for a World Press Convention.
- Bryant's mentally-impaired state would have rendered him unable to do the following:
- Shoot 32 people in the Broad Arrow Café and the gift shop with 29 gunshots and in under 90 seconds.
- Reload his rifle after firing 29 shots (the thirtieth bullet would've been left in the breech, allowing Bryant to shoot someone if caught unawares, something the mentally-impaired Bryant wouldn't have been able to remember).
- Fire from the hip, a difficult position that required firing with the right hand (Bryant was left-handed).
- There were physical descriptions regarding the shooter that didn't match those of Bryant.
- There was a number of evidence that didn't corroborate the details of the massacre, especially concerning the standoff at Seascape Cottage.
- There was no coronial inquiry to give Bryant a trial, which is required if foreign nationals were killed or if there were deaths by fire, to which both requirements were fulfilled during the massacre.
During the shooting, Bryant initially used an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle to kill his victims. Midway into the massacre at the Port Arthur site parking lot, he switched to an L1A1 Self-Loading Rifle battle rifle. When he killed the Martins, Bryant stabbed David Martin and applied blunt-force trauma to Noelene Martin before fatally shooting them. He had also brought along a 12-gauge USAS-12 automatic shotgun to Port Arthur, but didn't use it during the massacre, and had also possessed an AR-10 semiautomatic rifle, but didn't bring it to Port Arthur altogether.
On Criminal Minds
- Season Four
- "House on Fire" - While Bryant has yet to be directly mentioned or referenced on the show, he appears to have been an inspiration for the episode's unsub, Tommy Wheeler - Both are institutionalized killers who killed multiple victims in public places, killed at least 35 people, and both used fire in their crimes, which also took place at a popular tourist site.
- TruTV Crime Library articles about Bryant and the killing spree
- Sydney Morning Herald article about Bryant's background
- Report of the Broad Arrow Café and gift shop shootings
- Southeastasiannews.org, a website dedicated to the conspiracy theories of the Port Arthur massacre