A SUV rammed into pedestrians in Melbourne’s CBD injuring more than a dozen people, according to police and news reports. Authorities said it was a “deliberate act” and called it an “evil, cowardly attack,” but police said there are no links to terrorism.
“At this time we don’t have any evidence or intelligence to indicate a connection with terrorism,” Victoria Police Acting Chief Commissioner Shane Patton. The 32-year-old suspect has a history of mental health issues and has previously been arrested. He is an Australian citizen of Afghan descent, police said.
Some of the victims in the incident suffered critical injuries.
A second man who was filming the incident was arrested after police said he was found with knives, but he is not believed to be connected to the attack.
“Police are currently attending an incident on Flinders Street between Elizabeth and Swanston streets where a vehicle has collided with a number of pedestrians. Police have arrested the driver of the car. Extent of injuries are not known at this stage,” Victoria Police said on Twitter. “Police are asking any witnesses to go to the Melbourne West Police Station at 313 Spencer Street, Melbourne and all vehicular and pedestrian traffic to avoid the area.”
In a statement, police spokeswoman Creina O’Grady said, “The incident occurred when the vehicle struck a number of pedestrians in front of Flinders Street Station just after 4:30 p.m. The driver of the vehicle and a second man have been arrested and are in police custody. A number of people were treated at the scene for a range of injuries and have been transported to hospital.”
This is a breaking story and will be updated. Here is what we know so far:
1. Witness Says ‘I Just Saw Blood Everywhere’ as at Least 19 People Were Injured in the Incident
At least 19 people have been injured in the incident, authorities say. One of the victims is reportedly a pre-school aged child.
A witness said, “I just saw blood everywhere.”
Federica Viezzoli told the New York Times she saw the SUV “smashing into people” after turning onto Flinders Street.
“They basically were just bumped into the air, a couple of them,” she told the newspaper. “I heard the noise of bones crushing. It was kinda terrible. And the car ended up near the tram tracks.”
Chris Gath told The Age he heard screaming and then saw chaos.
“I heard it first and then I turned around and saw lots of bodies on the floor. I saw a car ploughing into many people and bodies flying everywhere,” he told the newspaper. Gath said he saw about 60 to 100 people crossing the intersection as the car headed toward them. “I was a bit worried about myself so I got lots of people to run with me, and got families out of the way. I didn’t know what was coming or how organised it was called whether it was a bomb… so I just freaked and ran.”
Video showed a white Suzuki SUV crashed into a tram stop, The Guardian reports.
2. The Driver Has a History of Drug Use, Psychological Issues & Arrests
Police said the driver, who was arrested at the scene by an off-duty officer, has a history of drug and mental health issues. He has been hospitalized and has not yet been interviewed by police.
“Doctors will determine when he is fit for interview,” Acting Chief Commissioner Shane Patton said. “We will be hoping to interview him at the earliest possible stage.”
The suspect is known to police, having been previously arrested for minor traffic incidents and a minor assault, Patton said. The SUV is registered to a family member and was not stolen. Patton said there is no ongoing threat.
A witness, who was not named, told the Herald Sun she saw police remove one man from the car and arrest him. The other man was arrested shortly after.
“The other man got out…he seemed to be a little bit dazed and confused,” she said. “Everybody was naturally shocked. One woman was just screaming and screaming…there was one man with a massive head injury. It was so much chaos in such a short period of time.”
Videos from a Twitter user, LachlanVe, show the moments after the crash (Warning – Graphic):
3. A Witness Says There Was ‘No Braking, No Slowing Down’ Before the SUV Plowed Into Pedestrians in the Busy Shopping District
Witnesses said the driver accelerated before crashing into the crowd of pedestrians.
“He has gone straight through the red light at pace and it was bang, bang, bang. It was just one after the other. The last bang the car stopped,” 20-year-old witness Lachlan Read told the Herald Sun.”There were bodies on the ground and people running up to them – it was mayhem. It is definitely something you don’t expect to see on Flinders St at 4:45 p.m.”
Jim, a Flinders Street bakery owner, told The Guardian, the driver “seemed to be travelling at about 80-100km down Flinders Street in a westerly direction. The intersection was full of pedestrians and he ploughed through pedestrians. The only thing slowing him down was him hitting pedestrians.There was no braking, there was no slowing down. He went straight through the intersection. So whether it was targeted or whether he’s had heart attack, or was drunk, I don’t know. He probably hit about 15 to 20 pedestrians. The car stopped because of just, I think, the amount of pedestrians that it had hit …. All you could hear was, ‘Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang’.”
Another witness, Sue, who works nearby, told The Age that she heard screams and then saw “people flying everywhere” during the incident.
“We could hear this noise, as we looked left, we saw this white car, it just mowed everybody down,” she said. “People are flying everywhere. We heard thump, thump. People are running everywhere.”
4. Police Have Asked for Photos, Video & Statements From Witnesses
Victoria Police are investigating the incident and have asked witnesses to come forward with photos, videos and statements.
“If members of the public have video or images which might assist police with their investigation into the Flinders Street incident they are encouraged to upload them here,” police said.
Police added in a statement, “Witnesses are requested to attend at the Melbourne West Police Station, 313 Spencer Street, Melbourne or to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or submit a confidential crime report at www.crimestoppersvic.com.au.”
A crime scene has been set up and police said it will be in place for some time. A police spokesman said it was a “traumatic” event for witnesses and victims, and said counselors will be available.
An unrelated incident caused more panic in Melbourne at the Bayside Shopping Centre in Frankston, according to BNO News. Witnesses heard “loud bangs” and explosions, which fire officials believe were caused by gas bottles. The incident happened about 7 p.m.
“There were three loud bangs. There were flames. People were running everywhere,” a witness told 3AW radio, according to BNO. Victoria Police said it was not a police incident and the fire department said the small fires would be put out within 30 minutes.
5. The Incident Comes 11 Months After 6 People Were Killed by a Driver in the Same Area
In January 2017, six people were killed and at least 30 others were wounded when a car rammed into pedestrians on Bourke Street in Melbourne, not far from the scene of the December 22 incident.
Dimitrious Gargasoulas was shot by police and then arrested. He has been charged with six counts of murder, according to news.au.com. Gargasoulas has a history of drug use, violence and psychological problems, according to The Age.
Police believe he was fleeing after stabbing his brother before driving into the pedestrians intentionally. He has claimed “extreme stress” caused a “mental breakdown,” and the court is working to decide whether he is psychologically fit to stand trial, The Age reports.
After that incident, police installed concrete blocks in various locations around Melbourne, including on Flinders Street, in an effort to stop vehicle-based attacks, according to the BBC.
While police have not said that the incident is terror-related, fears have grown over vehicle-related attacks around the world. ISIS has encouraged its sympathizers to carry out attacks using cars and trucks to plow down as many people as possible. In October, a man influenced by ISIS, Sayfullo Saipov, drove a truck into pedestrians and cyclists on a path in Manhattan, killing eight people and wounding 12. He is facing federal charges.
Similar attacks have happened over the past two years in Nice, France, London, Barcelona and Berlin.