‘My heart is in anguish within me;
the terrors of death have fallen on me.
Fear and trembling have beset me;
horror has overwhelmed me.
I said, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest.
I would flee far away
and stay in the desert;
I would hurry to my place of shelter,
far from the tempest and storm.” (Psalm 55:4-8)
Melbourne was frightened today, and tonight Melbourne mourns. This afternoon Melbourne witnessed the worse act of mass violence since the Queen St massacre of 1987, where 9 people were killed and several injured. Even as I write the toll from today’s crime has increased from 3 people dead to 4, and with a further 20 people injured. Police have told the public that the number of deaths may yet increase, and among the dead and injured are young children.
My city, our city, has been subjected to a pointless and evil act of terror. Like so many Melbournians I am trying to make sense of the incomprehensible, that a man would aim his car at innocent pedestrians in the centre of our city, along Elizabeth and Bourke Streets.
As with many others, I first realised some terrible event was unfolding as my twitter feed went into a frenzy with reports of a red car mounting the path of Bourke St, striking down several people. Within minutes a growing picture emerged of a police chase, an out of control driver doing donuts outside Flinders St Station, and hundreds of people shortly afterward running for their lives through city streets. One friend of mine reported that he heard gunshots and ran inside a nearby building, realising soon after that the assailant was being arrested, only 100m away.
During the first hour very few of us did not at least wonder whether we were seeing an act of terrorism; some foolishly sparked rumours on twitter, assuming without knowing. Police soon assured everyone that this was not terrorism and that the situation had been contained. Late afternoon police informed journalists that the alleged man was wanted for a stabbing from earlier today, and that he has a history of domestic violence and mental illness.
As with many others, I thank the police, ambulance, and hospitals who serve us so well. We should not forget them in our prayers as they work to protect, save, care, and heal.
The statement from our Premier, Daniel Andrews, echoes our own thoughts and prayers tonight,
“Our hearts are breaking this afternoon.
People have died in the heart of our city.
Others are seriously injured. Young and old. And all of them were innocent.
All of them were just going about their day, like you or I.
Some families are just starting to find out the news about their loved ones, and right now, our thoughts are with each and every one of them.
I’m so proud of all the Victorians who reached out and provided care and support to strangers today.
I’m so thankful for all our police, paramedics and emergency services workers who launched into action, and will now be working around the clock.
And I hope that everyone can be patient and cooperative, so we can let these professionals do their job.
This was a terrible crime – a senseless, evil act – and justice will be done.”
Mr Andrews is absolutely right, This was a terrible crime – a senseless, evil act”. Such appalling actions remind us how we need the moral category called, ‘evil’, and indeed that there is such a thing as evil. We are not stuck in an enclosed cosmos without Divine and ultimate reason and righteousness. Our recognition of evil forces us to discard esoteric notions of a godless universe, for we know and feel the odious presence of the nefarious, and we desperately need it gone, and perpetrators punished.
Tonight, some of our fellow Melbournians are entering the shadow of the valley of death, and many others stand nearby stunned and saddened. Psalm 23 reminds us that we do not have to walk through that valley of death alone,
‘Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.’
More than that, the one called Jesus has walked this path ahead of us, and for us. He is no out-of-touch Deity, but a God acquainted with grief.
Tonight, perhaps others would also like to pray for all those tonight wrestling with what they witnessed, especially for the injured and for those facing the most inexplicable grief; praying that friends will surround them and weep with them, and asking that the God of comfort might give comfort and peace through the darkness.
Update Sunday morning (Jan 22nd): a 5th person has now died, a 3 month old baby boy.