They say their lives will never be the same – but they hold hope in each other that they will move on from the 16-hour ordeal that began one December morning in Sydney.
Several survivors of the fatal Lindt Chocolate Cafe siege relived their harrowing experience on two TV networks during prime-time viewing on Sunday night.
Rival television networks Seven and Nine went head-to-head as they aired specials on Sydney’s fatal siege that started on the morning of December 15, 2014.
The siege claimed three lives.
Sydney barrister and mother-of-three Katrina Dawson was killed after being hit by six fragments of a police bullet which ricocheted into her body.
A second hostage, cafe manager Tori Johnson, was told to kneel on the floor before being executed by a gunshot into the back of the head, without warning, by gunman Man Haron Monis.
It was these gunshots which triggered the swift police response. Heavily armed officers stormed the Martin Place cafe just seconds after Mr Johnson was shot, killing Monis while he attempted to reload his shotgun, but also mortally wounding Ms Dawson.
Monis was struck twice in the head by fragments of police bullets, and 11 times in the body.
Fragments of police bullets also injured three other hostages and one tactical response officer, who was struck in the face.
On Sunday night some of the 18 hostages retold their horrific experience in the cafe during the ordeal, on both networks.
The hostages, including cafe worker Jarrod Morton-Hoffman, 19, remembers when the doors of the cafe were locked behind them.
Monis told them he was going to terrorise Australians due to the nation’s involvement in Iraq.
“I want to terrorise millions of Australians,” Mr Morton-Hoffman recalls Monis saying.
— 60 Minutes Australia (@60Mins) February 8, 2015
Another Lindt cafe worker, Paolo Vassallo, 36, said Mr Johnson was brave throughout the situation. “He wasn’t leaving … he was going to stay there till the end,” Mr Vassallo said.
— 7NewsMelbourne (@7NewsMelbourne) February 8, 2015
Seven’s host asks hostage and Westpac executive, Marcia Mikhael, 43, if she can remember the gunman’s face.
“Can I ever not see his face? And the answer is no,” Ms Mikhael said.
“I looked to my right to see if Katrina (Dawson) was okay. She wasn’t moving.
“There was nothing said (to Tori Johnson). If he kneeled, maybe Monis pushed him down but there was nothing spoken.”
Louisa Hope, 52, was trapped inside the building with mother Robin.
Louisa recalls how Monis shot Mr Johnson.
“It’s too unbelievable that that beautiful man was alive a moment ago,” Louisa says.
Joel Herat, 21, arrived to work at the cafe that morning with no idea what he would be involved in just hours later.
After some time held hostage by the gunman, Mr Herat took matters into his own hands.
“As we were running he came out and started shooting at us … the spray of the bullets just went everywhere,” Mr Herat said.
“I just wanted everyone to get out.”
Robin was one of the hostages who was injured by the bullet fragments, and says she was sitting in the hospital room after surgery, trying to process what had just happened.
“This was a moment in our country’s history that we were on a knife-edge, we could go either way – we could become a country of haters or we could respond to it in a totally different way,” Robin said.
“To me personally, post-surgery, I had friends coming in and family coming in and the anxiety was relieved when they told me about the ‘ridewithme’ haghtag and what was happening in Martin Place (floral tributes).
“Even in the tragedy, I was greatly encouraged by the thought that we had resisted the temptation to fall into a collective anger and we were moving positively and working through the grief.”
Seven’s Sunday Night program, titled Inside the Siege: The Untold Story, showed new footage shot from a camera that was positioned inside the network’s Martin Place office, opposite the Lindt building.
It also featured exclusive interviews with survivors Ms Mikhael and John O’Brien. Ms Mikhael, 43, was reportedly paid more than $300,000 for her story, while Mr O’Brien, 82, is said to have received $100,000.
Anger at police response
Ms Mikhael said the police response should have been proactive.
“I know there are a lot of officers who risked their lives to be there and I thank them from the bottom of my heart. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not being ungrateful to them, but I just think the army would have been a better, more appropriate to be handling this situation,” she said.
Ms Mikhael pointed out earlier that it felt like the police were just waiting.
“It was a waiting game. They were being reactive. There was nothing proactive about that operation.”
She was also furious that at one point she was told by police when she called to tell them gunman Man Haron Monis’ demands that the PM was busy.
“The prime minister is a very busy man and he can’t come to the phone,” she recalls being told.
“I yelled at him … I was in disbelief.”
Meanwhile John O’Brien, who is said to have been paid $100,000 for his interview, was also irate.
“I am very angry because I only said to my wife two or three months ago, it won’t be long before we have an attack here,” he said.
And fellow survivor Viswakanth Ankireddy joined them in their outcry.
“I’m not happy with the way things have happen,” he said.
The Nine Network’s 60 Minutes secured interviews with eight hostages caught in the 16-hour ordeal.
Nine has reportedly forked out $1 million for the combined package, including interviews with cafe worker Mr Morton-Hoffman and pregnant barista Harriette Denny.
The inquest into the siege is adjourned with a future hearing date and location yet to be set.
– with AAP