Bourke Street attack: the aftermath

A memorial wall filled with messages for murdered Pelligrini's owner Sisto Malaspina . (Photo: Luke Hancock)

Guardian bureau chief Melissa Davey reported from the scene of the Bourke Street attack, and reflected on the experience with the Hatch team. 

“You often know the least about a situation when you’re on the ground trying to get there because you don’t have time to be looking at news sites and monitoring social media,” she told Macleay College journalism students.

Davey was in Parkville when the news broke and began reporting for the Guardian website during her tram ride back to the CBD.

“I was on the phone to someone from Melbourne City Council who was in lockdown,” she said.

“I was filing his account and trying to figure out if the traffic was moving at all and if I should jump off the tram.

“Everyone in the office was looking at the news and looking at Twitter, so I really relied on them to call me and let me know what was going on.

“I’m thinking, I have to file this witness account, then I’ve got to get really close and how close am I going to get, is there going to be a press conference?

“You’re trying to think of how to get as much information as possible and send it through to your news editors.”

Reporting from the scene of such dramatic breaking news is fraught on many levels, and the danger of disinformation can be very real.

“You have to be very careful with the footage you look at and make sure its actually from the scene, and not someone who has footage from something two years ago and where they just pretending they were there and putting up the footage now,” Davey said.

“You also have to make decisions … do we put those graphic images up, especially before family have been notified?”

With a state election looming, politicians had already been ramping up rhetoric around crime and terrorism. Unsurprisingly, the Bourke Street attack became politicised almost immediately.

But was it ‘terrorism’, or the act of a mentally unwell person?

“You can’t blame mental illness but there is some mental illness going on in all of those cases,” Davey said.

“I think you have to recognise that and understand where that fits in. The political response is sometimes so ignorant and doesn’t match up at all with what’s happened or what’s going on.

“We’ve been hearing a lot about tough-on-crime responses and sending people here on visas back overseas if they’ve committed a crime, none of which would’ve prevented this particular instance.

“I thinks it’s more useful to look at how … people get to this point and where have they been missed in the system.”

It was just after 4pm on Friday November 9 when Hassan Khalif Shire Ali brought fire and blood to the heart of Melbourne.

He set his car ablaze in Bourke Street and attacked three bystanders with a knife, killing beloved Melbourne cafe owner Sisto Malaspina.

A ute burns on Bourke Street during the attack. (Photo: YouTube)

A 26-year old security guard also suffered neck wounds, while 56-year old Rodney Patterson suffered head injuries.

Mr Patterson, the owner of an Autobarn in Launceston, was released from the Alfred Hospital earlier this week. The condition of the security guard is not known.

Stabbing victim Rodney Patterson. (Photo: Facebook)

Mr Malaspina, who had reportedly rushed to help, died at the scene.

Mr Malaspina had been the co-owner of the iconic Pellegrini’s cafe since 1974, and had become a grandfather for the first time just two weeks prior to his death. His family accepted the Victorian Government’s offer of a state funeral, which will be held at St Patrick’s Cathedral in East Melbourne on Tuesday November 20.

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Premier Daniel Andrews paid tribute to “an outstanding Victorian, a wonderful, wonderful man”.

As tributes flowed for Mr Malaspina, attention of another kind was being lavished on Michael Rogers – dubbed “Trolley Man” – who had attempted to fend off and distract Ali as police tried to subdue him.

‘Trolley Man’ attempts to thwart the Bourke Street attacker. (Photo: YouTube)

A crowdfunding campaign to support Mr Rogers, who is homeless, has raised over $144,000. But nearly a week after the attack, it was revealed he is wanted by police in relation to a series of burglaries that occurred before his Bourke Street heroics.

Two other bystanders also rushed in to aid police, one using a cafe chair and the other a traffic cone.

During the altercation, Ali was shot in the chest by a young police officer who graduated only three months ago. Ali died later in hospital.

Melbourne Lord Mayor Sally Capp took to Twitter praising the officers who responded to the incident.

The Somali-born Ali arrived in Australia in the 1990s as a child and in 2015 had his passport revoked after making plans to enter Syria. His criminal record involved driving offences, theft and cannabis use.

The Islamic State Terrorist group (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the attack around the same time Prime Minister Scott Morrison condemned radical Islam.

Mr Morrison and Victorian Opposition Leader Matthew Guy used a mid-campaign visit to Pellegrini’s to warn of the dangers of radicalisation.

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