Among them, Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who called the victims “decent, good people” who were “caught up in the sick fantasy of a deeply disturbed individual.”
Thirty-four-year-old Tori Johnson and 38-year-old Katrina Dawson were in the cafe when the gunman, Man Haron Monis, walked inside during Monday morning rush hour in Sydney. Johnson was the cafe manager. Dawson, an attorney and mother of three, was having coffee with a co-worker.
Helicopters hovered over the city. Surrounding streets and a train station were shut down. Buildings were evacuated. Then, at about 2 a.m. local time Tuesday, Australian riot police heard gunshots and stormed the cafe.
During the 16-hour siege, five people managed to escape. Others ran from the building when police came in — and a barrage of gunfire followed.
“I can only imagine the terror that they’ve been through. They are very brave people who in many cases were buying a cup of coffee and they got caught up in this dreadful affair,” New South Wales State Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said. “We should reflect on their courage, the courage that they displayed during the many hours in that room.”
Officials have not said whether the two who died were trapped in crossfire or shot by Monis.
Monis, 50, was a self-proclaimed “spiritual healer” once charged as an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife, among other things. He was out on bail. Many Australians expressed concern and anger that a man with such a history was free.
“How can someone who has had such a long and checkered history not be on the appropriate watch list? And how can someone like that be entirely at large in the community?” Abbott said Tuesday. “These are questions we need to look at carefully and calmly and methodically. That’s what we’ll be doing in the days and weeks ahead.”
Indeed, the incident brought up fears of a terrorist attack, but it also brought out displays of humanity.
Muslim leaders in Australia, including the grand mufti Ibrahim Abu Mohamed, called the siege a “criminal act.”
The Islamic State and other extremist groups have threatened Australia with violence for its participation in the U.S.-led campaign against Islamist militants in Iraq and Syria. Australia, in response, has imposed new security measures in recent months and made several arrests of suspects accused of plotting acts of violence.
The nation’s people have united as well.
On Monday night, the hashtag #Illridewithyou started trending on Twitter in support of Australia’s Muslim community, which has experienced some backlash. One Muslim told the Sydney Morning Herald in the hours after the hostage-taking, he was spat on. Many on social media have offered to walk with people dressed in Muslim clothes. The next morning, one woman in the city center embraced representatives from the Islamophobia Register of Australia, the newspaper reported.
“We are with you,” she told them, “feel safe, feel safe.”
On Tuesday morning, national flags along the Harbour Bridge were lowered to half-staff. A parade of people gathered at the shrine in Martin Place, a plaza in the heart of the city, to lay flowers or leave notes. Maureen Sharma and Ruza Fisher went to pay their respects.
“I came to work this morning and could not stop crying,” Sharma told the BBC News. “It touched me more than I expected.”
Fisher added: “I am starting to well up. … It was such a waste of lives.”
Like many others, Terri Lucia, an inner-city worker, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, “I just can’t believe that this is happening to our country.”
“I haven’t slept all night, just wondering what’s going to happen, and it’s just so surreal,” Lucia said. “I’m just so shocked today.”
Following Johnson and Dawson’s deaths, Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher honored the victims, who spent their last hours less than a mile from St. Mary’s Cathedral.
“Today the heart of our city is broken by the deaths of two innocent ‘hostages’ along with their tormentor, the injuries of four others and trauma to many more, the paralysis our city has experienced this day past,” he said in his homily. “One of the deceased was Katrina Dawson, a mother of three young children and gifted barrister, presumably on her way to chambers for another day’s service of her clients. The other, Tori Johnson, was the young manager of the café, likewise intent on serving his customers. And the third was Sheik Man Haron Monis the perpetrator of this nightmare.”
Friends and family also paid tribute to the victims.
“Katrina was one of our best and brightest barristers who will be greatly missed by her colleagues and friends,” Jane Needham, president of the New South Wales Bar Association, said in a statement. It went on: “She was a devoted mother of three children, and a valued member of her floor and of our Bar community. Our thoughts are with her family at this time.”
Johnson’s parents said they were proud of their “beautiful boy Tori.”
“The most amazing life partner, son and brother we could ever wish for,” they said in a statement.
Lindt Australia chief executive Steve Loane added Johnson was “much loved” by the cafe’s staff.
“He was a really important part of our management team in Australia and his loss is absolutely tragic,” he said.
Officials have told Australians to remember that the siege was an isolated incident. The New South Wales police have launched a new security operation dubbed “Operation Hammerhead” to monitor public streets, spaces and transportation centers over the next several weeks
“Do not let this sort of incident bring about any loss of confidence of working or visiting our city,” Scipione said. “It was the act of an individual. This should never destroy or change the way of our life.”