A young child is among three people dead after a driver deliberately ploughed through pedestrians in downtown Melbourne, Australia, on Friday, sparking chaos in the city centre in a tragedy described by the Prime Minister as a “vicious criminal attack”.
More than 20 people were being assessed by paramedics after a car, driven by a 26-year-old man, ran down 15 pedestrians on Bourke and Queen Streets - two of the city’s busiest downtown streets. It was not a terrorist incident and the man was arrested at the scene, police confirmed.
A man and woman in their 30s standing at different locations were killed, as well as a young child. Five more young people ― including a two-month-old ― were being treated at Melbourne’s Royal Children Hospital.
Police confirmed they shot the 26-year-old man, who was the sole occupant of the car, and was being treated for non-life threatening injuries. Police say the alleged offender has an extensive family violence history, and came to police attention “on many occasions” in the past.
“We have mental health and drug-related issues in the background of this particular person,” Chief Police Commissioner Graham Ashton told reporters on Friday.
“He has been coming to our attention more recently over recent days in relation to assaults, family violence-related assaults. There are many witnesses to this event.”
The homicide squad was now investigating the tragic incident. Ashton said police had to take a critically injured child to hospital because there was no time to wait for the ambulance.
“We couldn’t wait for the ambulance to arrive, such was the condition of the child and that child is currently ― that infant child is currently in a critical condition at hospital at the moment,” he said.
Ashton police had earlier pursued the man in the car before bringing in Police Air support.
“That’s when this incident has occurred. He has continued that really erratic driving,” Ashton said. “Often when we pull back, we bring in the air-wing, the driving settles, gives us an opportunity to come in.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews praised the response of emergency services.
“We are stronger than this,” he said. “We, through our response, through the work of our emergency services, the work that the instinctive way in which Victorians have reached out to support each other, we can be confident that we are stronger than this evil criminal act.”
Young Patients Critical
The Royal Children’s Hospital of Melbourne spokesman told reporters five patients had been admitted including a three-month-old who is in the operating theatre, a 2-year-old was in intensive care and a 9-year-old was being treated for limb injuries.
“We have have a mixture of injuries from orthopaedic to neurosurgical, and possibly some abdominal injuries,” the spokesman said. “It’s a significant event that require hospital staff to be fully prepared and moving. It’s a critical condition for those children involved.”
A 12-year-old was undergoing assessment and a 23-year-old was being treated for a limb injury.
Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull described it was a “vicious criminal attack” while Melbourne’s Lord Mayor, Robert Doyle added it was a “deliberate act of violence”.
Police said the incident is linked to a stabbing that took place in the city’s southern metro region early on Friday morning. It’s alleged the same man took a woman who is known to him hostage in his car. She managed to escape from the car on a nearby bridge.
Acting Commander Stuart Bateson confirmed police believed the man they arrested was connected to the earlier stabbing.
“I can also confirm that this is not a counter terrorism-related incident,” Bateson said on Friday afternoon. “At this present stage, we ask the public to avoid the city. It is going to take us a really long time to process this scene.
”Our priority at the moment is with the injured, and it must be that we give them our attention.”
Large sections of Bourke St were closed to pedestrians.
The busy district was thrown into chaos on Friday as pedestrians were forced to flee for their lives after the car ― which was reportedly moving erratically ― allegedly struck pedestrians.
What appears to be CCTV footage of people fleeing from the path of the car has been uploaded to Twitter.
Former Victoria Police commissioner Christine Nixon saw the incident unfold and told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) one of the injured was a toddler, who it appeared was thrown out of a pram.
“[The toddler’s mother] kept asking me ‘where’s the baby?’ and said ‘I don’t know’,” Nixon told the national broadcaster.
Nixon said the car missed her by a metre when she was standing on the corner Bourke and William waiting to cross the road.
“I turned around and saw the car. He was probably about a metre from me, I stepped back [from the road] and he continued down Bourke Street on the footpath, with people chasing him,” she said.
‘Not Just Random’
Sydney-based journalist Marie Desset was shopping with her mother when they walked out of the Royal Arcade in Bourke St mall to see the man recklessly driving through the pedestrian strip.
“First I assumed it was a guy just trying to escape after a hijacking, but he didn’t seem to avoid pedestrians,” the 31-year-old told The Huffington Post Australia.
Desset said she was three to five metres away from the car, when the man drove it past Myer in Bourke Street mall.
“I was comforting my mum who had seen some people hit by the car and then I turned and saw a guy on the floor, who had been hit, and quite quickly realised there was no time to comfort my mum ― we needed shelter,” Desset said.
“At that moment I realised it was not just a random situation. It could be from a bigger scale.”
Eyewitness Laura Polson told the ABC she saw the car circling and thought it had been involved in a crash.
“People were trying to stop this man who was driving around and around and he was half hanging outside the car ― even the street performer in Federation Square was warning the crowd to stay away, because he was just so reckless... to the point where you, you know, he just didn’t care, obviously, what he was doing,” she said.
“It was absolute chaos and from that very moment, the sirens have not stopped. The police helicopter was coming lower and lower at that point.”
Parts of the street were thrown into lockdown, and police want people to avoid the area.
Mayor Robert Doyle said the central city will be locked down on Friday night, and he urged residents to plan their trips home, allow time and leave early.