Four dead after shooting spree in Australia's Darwin, suspect was on parole

Darwin shooting suspect Ben Hoffmann.
Darwin shooting suspect Ben Hoffmann.

An Australian man who allegedly opened fire in Darwin killing four men and injuring one woman, can be identified as 45-year-old Ben Hoffmann.

Hoffmann was on parole and wearing an electronic monitoring bracelet when he allegedly opened fire with a pump-action shotgun in the Darwin city area about 5.45pm local time on Tuesday.

The shooting spree began at a motel before the alleged gunman travelled to four other locations, including to the outskirts of the city.

Police arrested Hoffmann in the Stuart Park area of Darwin about an hour later, at 6.45pm. Television footage showed a man on the ground after being dragged from under a white dual cab ute, kicking his legs at officers from NT Police's Territory Response Group. Hoffmann remains in custody, and no charges have been laid.

NT Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw said officers were able to track down the suspected shooter after he contacted a police duty superintendent, who alerted others to his location.

"He asked to be placed into protective custody, which we did," Commissioner Kershaw said.

"We do believe he may have been trying to hand himself in. We're not sure."

Australian police arrest a man in Darwin on Tuesday after four people were shot dead and one was injured.
Australian police arrest a man in Darwin on Tuesday after four people were shot dead and one was injured.

A former friend of Hoffman said he was "a normal guy growing up", but had been in and out of jail in recent years.

The friend said he saw Hoffmann earlier this year and "he seemed normal. He was friendly. Happy to see me. I saw him again later but I avoided him, like you might do with people you know who are in and out of jail".

Commissioner Kershaw said the suspected shooter was a man who was "well-known" to police and previously had a number of adverse interactions with the police force.

He said the man was released on parole in about January this year, and was currently being held at hospital.

Police are still trying to establish the intent or motivation behind the shooting, which was carried out with a shotgun.

"Unfortunately and sadly four people have lost their lives this evening," Commissioner Kershaw said.

Four people have died in Darwin, Australia, and a man is in custody.
Four people have died in Darwin, Australia, and a man is in custody.

A police operation is ongoing in Darwin, with more than 100 police officers examining crime scenes including the Buff Club, Palms Motel, Coles Express and police facility the Peter McAulay Centre as they trace the shooter's steps.

Commissioner Kershaw said the gunman may have tried to enter the police facility at some stage.

A NT Health spokeswoman said two people were been taken to hospital in a stable condition.

Witnesses saw a man with a gun

The incident started with reports of a man firing shots at Finnis St at about 5.50pm just outside the Darwin CBD, with the four deaths occurring at the nearby Buffalo Club, Gardens Hill Crescent, the Palms Motel and Jolly Street.

Witness John Rose told the ABC he saw a man walk into the motel with a "sawn-off shotgun".

"He shot up all the rooms and he went to every room looking for somebody and he shot them all up, then we saw him rush out, jump into his Toyota pick-up, and rush off," Rose said.

Other witnesses said they heard what sounded like firecrackers. A woman told the ABC she saw a man with a shotgun, and gave first aid to a woman who had been shot in the legs.

Max Campart was having a drink at the Punters Bar, across the road from the Palms Motel, when he heard about seven or eight shots.

Patrons were told to move towards the back of the bar and stay away from the windows.

"We didn't know exactly what was happening. It was very loud," Campart said.

While inside the pub, he glimpsed the shooter walking down the street about 50 metres away.

"I saw a guy coming down the street in a white T-shirt with a gun in his hand," Campart said.

Footage from the city's CBD showed tactical officers wearing camouflage surrounding a man who thrashed around on the ground. Onlookers were ushered away from the area.

The shootings happened in the CBD and two inner-city suburbs.
The shootings happened in the CBD and two inner-city suburbs.

A group of about a dozen men who were friends and relatives of a man who died at the Palms Hotel gathered outside after the shooting and many were in tears.

Darwin local Matthew James was standing in a carpark nears the Palms when it all began.

"It was just surreal," he told Nine's Today program. "All of a sudden there were these gunshots."

"Moments later someone came running towards me carrying this woman who was covered in blood and just basically put her at my feet and she was screaming that she had been shot.

"The guy that actually carried her up was pretty frantic at the time, saying he had opened the door and there was a gunman there with a shotgun and he proceeded to fire upon anybody inside the building."

The woman was hysterical, James said.

"She was caught up in it, she said 'I've been shot, I don't know why, I don't have anything to do with anything', he said.

The woman told James the shooter had been going from room to room, firing his gun and shouting the name of a man - Alex.

"It just seems so insane," James said.

'Terrible act of violence'

Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the shooting was a "terrible act of violence" and said he had been in contact with police and NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner.

"I just want to send my deep condolences and sympathies to all the people in the territory and particularly in Darwin," Morrison said from London.

"This is a very tight community and I know they will be rocked by these events.

"I think it's important that everyone in Darwin, everyone in the Territory, understands that the thoughts of Australians [are with them]."

NT Chief minister Michael Gunner said: "This is not the Darwin we know."

"On behalf of Territorians, our thoughts are with the families and friends of the victims and everybody else who has been impacted," Gunner said.

"I thank our police and first responders."

- With Nick Miller in London, AAP


Sydney Morning Herald