A HOSTAGE who died during a siege in a city centre Sydney cafe was killed when she was struck by fragments of a bullet fired from a police officer’s gun as authorities stormed in to end the 16-hour standoff, a lawyer told an inquest yesterday.
Katrina Dawson, 38, who was among 18 people taken hostage by a gunman, died after being hit by six fragments of a police bullet that had ricocheted off a hard surface, Jeremy Gormly, a lawyer assisting the coroner, told the Glebe Coroner’s Court. One fragment struck a major blood vessel and she quickly lost consciousness, he said.
Another hostage, 34-year-old cafe manager Tori Johnson, was killed after gunman Man Horan Monis forced him to kneel on the floor and then fired into the back of his head with a sawn-off shotgun, Mr Gormly told the inquest.
He is believed to have died immediately. A police sharpshooter witnessed Mr Johnson’s killing, prompting police to move in, Mr Gormly said.
The details of the deaths of Ms Dawson and Mr Johnson came on the opening day of the inquest into last month’s siege at the Lindt Cafe.
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Monis, a 50-year-old Iranian-born, self-styled cleric with a long criminal history, took the customers and workers captive and forced them to outline his demands in a series of online videos – including that he be permitted to speak to the prime minister and be delivered a flag of the Islamic State group.
The stand-off ended when police stormed the cafe in a barrage of gunfire to free the hostages. Monis was killed, along with Ms Dawson and Mr Johnson.
Officials had previously refused to say whether the hostages died at Monis’ hand or had been caught in police crossfire. The coronial inquest – a court-like proceeding convened after unusual deaths in Australia – is aimed at determining how they and Monis died, and whether the tragedy could have been prevented.
Mr Gormly cautioned in his opening address that the rundown of events he was giving was preliminary, and based on his interpretation of the evidence he had seen thus far. The coroner will make the final declaration on how the hostages and Monis died.
“Rarely have such horrifying events unfolded so publicly,” Coroner Michael Barnes told the court. “Overlaying the intense personal suffering on display were fearsome themes which called up wider and more far-reaching threats that understandably terrified many, even among those who only saw it from afar.”
The inquest will look into how police managed the crisis, including whether snipers should have taken a shot at Monis through the windows.
“Questions concerning the use of police marksmen, whether to wait or act immediately and other options have been discussed in public, I anticipate evidence on all those matters,” he said.
In his opening address, Mr Gormly gave a detailed account of how the siege unfolded on the morning of 15 December.
The court heard two police officers fired 22 shots as they stormed into the cafe. At least two police bullets or fragments hit Monis in the head, and 11 others struck his body.
The inquest will examine Monis’ mental health, his motivations for the attack and what – if any – terrorist associations he had. Mr Gormly said it doesn’t appear Monis had established any contact with the Islamic State group.
John O’Brien, one of the first hostages to escape, attended the hearing, along with family and friends of Mr Johnson. Outside court, he said listening to the summary of the horror he had lived through had been difficult.
“It was upsetting, very upsetting for Tori Johnson’s family,” he said. “We were sitting in there and [it was] very emotional.”
The inquest was adjourned for the day, and the coroner has not yet set future hearing dates.