A 48-year-old man has been remanded in custody charged with the murder of Brisbane City Council bus driver Manmeet Alisher.
Anthony Mark Edward O’Donohue, also charged with 11 counts of attempted murder relating to the passengers, and arson, appeared briefly in the Brisbane Magistrates Court this morning.
Superintendent Jim Keogh said there was “no apparent motive” for the attack and that police had ruled out terrorism.
Today, bus drivers on the job across Brisbane are wearing black armbands as a sign of respect for their dead colleague, his friends and family.
A flag is flying at half mast over City Hall in the Brisbane CBD.
A taxi driver is being hailed a hero for helping save passengers from the “random” fire attack.
Taxi driver Aguek Nyok happened to be passing by the scene and kicked out the back door of the flaming bus after he heard passengers screaming to get out.
— 7 News Queensland (@7NewsQueensland) October 28, 2016
“I thought the driver would open the door for them but nah, I stood a few seconds and nothing was happening so I decided to do something about it,” Mr Nyok told Channel Nine News.
“Everyone was shaking … I was just holding the door until the last one got out.
“All the people were at the back trying to get out of the bus but they couldn’t get out the front because of the flames.”
Mr Alisher, a former cab driver who had only worked casual shifts for the bus company over the past few months, was a beloved Indian singer well known in the Punjabi community.
An industry colleague, who asked not to be named, said Mr Alisher was a soft spoken and courteous man, who had recently performed at Diwali, the annual Hindu festival of lights, in Adelaide.
“One of those genuine guys. It’s very sad, everyone’s in shock,” the colleague said. “It’s a very tragic loss.”
Mr Alisher, who was also known as Manmeet Sharma (he was from the Alisher village in India and was known in Australia by that surname), was also a regular announcer on Brisbane’s 4EB radio station and a hobby film maker. He was planning to holiday in India, where he was to marry in about six weeks.
His parents in India have been advised of his death and are preparing to bring his body home.
— Madura McCormack (@MaduraMcCormack) October 28, 2016
On Friday evening hundreds of people gathered at the scene of the attack and placed flowers, lit candles and chanted.
Close friend Reshpal Singh was at the vigil and said Mr Alisher “was a star in the Punjabi community and he will be dearly missed”.
“It’s a very sad situation and it’s hard to express how we feel about his sudden death.
“Manmeet loved Australia so much and often wrote about it in his poetry.”
Queensland’s police commissioner said Ian Stewart six passengers on the bus had been taken to hospital suffering smoke inhalation and minor injuries. He described Mr Nyok’s action as ”heroic at the very least” and praised the response by others who tried desperately to help.
Eyewitness Clair Savage told Fairfax Media the Mr Nyok was a hero. “I just said to him ‘you just saved people’s lives’,” she said.
Commissioner Stewart said police did not know “the actual motives at this stage, [but] I want to reassure the community that we take these incidents very seriously and that is why, as a precaution, officers from the State Security and Counter Terrorism Group have also been involved in this investigation”.
“I want to assure you that there is no evidence at this time of any linkage to terrorist-type activities and certainly that has not become evident through the ongoing investigations that have occurred.
“We do not believe at this stage that there is any evidence linking this to a racial complaint or concern by either of the people involved.”
The fatal attack happened while the bus was stationary outside the Beaudesert Rd shops in Moorooka about 9am on Friday.
Eleven passengers have been treated for smoke inhalation and minor injuries.
‘He stood little chance’
Superintendent Jim Keogh told reporters the driver “stood little chance,” of surviving the attack.
Supt Keogh said people who were travelling on the bus were lucky to be alive and that others waiting at a bus stop to get on. All had been deeply traumatised, he said.
— Veronica Eggleton (@veggleton) October 28, 2016
“The fire was substantial,” he said.
“There is no apparent motive at this point in time.”
When asked if the suspect and the driver knew each other, Supt Keogh said there was nothing to suggest they did.
“It would appear (to be) random,” he said.
Other onlookers said they could hear terrified screams coming from the bus.
— Nine News Brisbane (@9NewsBrisbane) October 28, 2016
Moorooka resident Sophie O’Sullivan said “a guy from Cash Converters ran over with another fire extinguisher. If he didn’t do anything the whole bus could have gone up and the shops could have gone too.”
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said it had been a horrific week for the state, with this latest shock coming so soon after the four deaths at Dreamworld.
“This week has been just filled with tragedy … a young bus driver had lost his life in such horrendous circumstances,” she said.
Brisbane bus driver and assault victim Craig Brown said this appalling episode backed up his contention that industrial action might be required to get immediate action on driver safety.
“We as bus drivers deserve to go to work for an honest days’ wage and return safely home to our loving families. When is enough, enough?”