It may have been pure coincidence that it happened as the trial of James Gargasoulas was being conducted in the Supreme Court, but for several witnesses to the latest attack on Bourke Street, the echoes of previous atrocities was unmistakable.
“I read the paper about the last attack on Bourke Street this morning and I had a funny feeling all day,” said Michael Herd, who only moved to Melbourne from Sydney a couple of months ago. “I thought, ‘It’s awful, I hope I never witness anything like that’. And then all of a sudden it happened.”
For Daniel Rachbuch, who was about 20 metres away from the incident, it brought back memories of another close encounter with atrocity.
“I was in the terrorist attack in Barcelona,” the 20-year-old commerce student said, referring to the August 2017 attack in which a van was driven into pedestrians on the crowded La Rambla, killing 13 and injuring more than 100 others.
“That car [in Barcelona] missed me by a couple of metres and I saw people getting ploughed there.”
In Melbourne, Mr Rachbuch heard the attack before he saw it.
“I heard the explosion and turned around and saw the terrorist wielding a knife, running around the police car and tentatively looking at them before lunging at one of them, before deciding to back off and run back into a shop.”
Phone shop worker Aakash Verma, 27, said he saw the attacker stab a policeman while he was still inside the car.
“I’m not sure if the guy tried to open the door or the policeman did, but the guy started to stab the cop on the driver’s side. The cop wasn’t bleeding, but he was in a state of shock when he came out of the car. Maybe [the knife] hit his vest, which saved his life.
“[The attacker] said nothing, he just wanted to fight,” Mr Verma added. “He had a million chances to run away but he didn’t want to.”
Mr Verma said he saw police try to contain the man using “sprays, Tasers, but that didn’t work. I’m not sure why – maybe he was on some sort of drugs. The sprays definitely hit his head but nothing happened.”
While many people fled the scene or hid inside shops to avoid the danger, some reached instantly for their mobile phones to record the incident, and in many cases to post it to social media.
Amateur photographer Stuart Gaut went one better.
Mr Gaut was in McDonald’s on the corner of Bourke and Russell streets when he felt the building shake and heard an explosion.
As he ran to the entrance, he saw about 40 people sprinting past in fear. “They were bolting, they all had panicked faces,” he said.
He grabbed his gear and ran in the opposite direction, towards the scene, to take photos. “I just saw the car, then the whole area was covered in smoke. There were a lot of policemen moving everyone away. It’s funny how everyone just stands around and looks, no one was really running away.'”
Mr Gaut then went back into the McDonald’s, which was in lockdown for more than an hour, where he patted the shoulder of a trembling witness recounting his account to police.
That man told police he had been on a bench just metres away from the truck as it ploughed past, and he saw the attacker jump out of the vehicle before the truck exploded.
“He was in shock,” Mr Gaut said. “It took him a while to understand what was going on.”
Many witnesses only became aware that something was amiss when they heard the explosion. But Jye Rodto, who was with Michael Herd, saw the moments that preceded the explosion.
“The car was stuck behind a tram, coming down Bourke Street,” he said.
He thought he saw the attacker throw something through the passenger window of the ute, and about three seconds later the vehicle exploded. “And then the ute lost control and went to the other side of the street and exploded again.”
Mr Herd said he heard the explosion and turned around to see “a ute on fire rolling towards us, and I ran”.
After Mr Rodto told him that he had seen the ute behind the stationary tram before it exploded, Mr Herd wondered if the whole thing might not have taken an even worse turn.
“I think he [the attacker] was trying to time it to get the tram, in all honesty. I think he was trying to throw the bomb into the car to be at the same time as the tram, to get the people on the tram.
“[At first] I thought something had happened to the tram because I could see the tram and smoke. And then as the tram continued I saw it was a car on fire, rolling towards us. So it looks like he’d almost tried to time it so that the car would have exploded and got the tram.”
It is normal for people to have strong emotional or physical reactions following a distressing or frightening event. People can seek help and advice by visiting your local doctor or calling Lifeline 13 11 14, GriefLine 1300 845 745, or beyondblue 1300 224 636.
Story from theage.com.au