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SYDNEY: Australian Prime minister Anthony Albanese attends a candlelight vigil for the victims of a stabbing attack at the Bondi Junction Westfield shopping centre on April 21, 2024. - AFP
SYDNEY: Australian Prime minister Anthony Albanese attends a candlelight vigil for the victims of a stabbing attack at the Bondi Junction Westfield shopping centre on April 21, 2024. - AFP

Crowds join Bondi Beach memorial for stabbing victims

SYDNEY: Crowds gathered at Sydney’s iconic Bondi Beach on Sunday for a candlelight memorial to the six people killed by a knife-wielding assailant at a nearby shopping mall. Many hundreds sat on the grass in a beachside park to grieve for the five women and a Pakistani male security guard who died in the April 13 attack at the Westfield Bondi Junction shopping complex. The killings stunned many Australians who are largely unaccustomed to such violent crime.

“When I heard this I cried. Because it is new to us. We don’t have this happen often. It’s a shock,” said 56-year-old local cafe owner Daniela Pontidas. “I know a lot of people that were impacted in some way,” she told AFP. “I feel like this has burst Australia’s bubble a bit.”

Paul Inggall, 50, said he had been at Bondi Junction in the morning hours before the attack. “These things don’t happen often in Australia but when they do I think they have a profound impact,” he told AFP. “I think it really moves the community, so I want to be a part of it.”

The mentally ill knifeman, 40-year-old Joel Cauchi, was tracked down, shot and killed by police inspector Amy Scott, who attended the service. As waves crashed into the beach at dusk, a choir sang the hymn “Keep Your Loving Arms Around Me”. An Indigenous didgeridoo was played as people lit candles in the breezy evening. “Bondi is tough and this is a strong community, and we will get through this,” said New South Wales Premier Chris Minns.

‘Snatched away’

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese offered the condolences of the nation for the six lives “snatched away on that hardest of Saturday afternoons”. “We mourn for all the joy they should have known,” he said. Cauchi’s parents say he was diagnosed with schizophrenia at 17 but stopped taking medication, later leaving their Queensland home and dropping out of treatment.

His women victims were a designer, a volunteer surf lifesaver, the daughter of an entrepreneur, a Chinese university student and a new mother. The 38-year-old mother, Ashlee Good, handed over her bleeding nine-month-old girl Harriet to two strangers in desperation before being rushed to hospital where she died. The baby was also taken to hospital and is said to be doing well.

The shopping mall reopened for business on Friday in a sombre mood, with floral tributes to the dead piled up inside and shoppers stopping to sign a book of condolence. Australian leaders have praised the “heroes” of the Bondi attack, including the police and emergency responders. The government has granted permanent citizenship to Frenchman Damien Guerot who fended off the attacker with a bollard; and it is expected to do the same for wounded Pakistani security guard Muhammad Taha.

Despite the rarity of such crimes, two days after the mall attack an Assyrian Christian bishop was brutally stabbed during a livestreamed service in western Sydney. The bishop has said he is recovering in hospital. A 16-year-old suspect has been charged with committing “a terrorist act”. – AFP

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