SYDNEY (AP) — The manager of a Sydney cafe where a 16-hour siege ended in a hail of bullets early Tuesday was lauded for sacrificing his life by grabbing the gunman’s shotgun, an act that reportedly helped bring the standoff to an end and saved the lives of most of his fellow hostages.
Tori Johnson, the 34-year-old manager of the Lindt Chocolat Cafe, who was among the 17 hostages taken by the gunman and one of two who were killed, was remembered for putting his staffers’ needs first.
The other hostage who died, Katrina Dawson, a 38-year-old mother of three, was known as a brilliant lawyer who taught young students how to prepare for mock trials.
Both were being lauded for their courage after unconfirmed reports emerged that they had sacrificed themselves to save their fellow hostages.
Sydney’s Catholic Archbishop Anthony Fisher said at an emotional memorial service attended by hundreds at St. Mary’s Cathedral that Johnson had reportedly brought the siege to a head by grabbing the shotgun wielded by hostage-taker Man Haron Monis. Monis was killed as police stormed the cafe to end the siege.
“Apparently seeing an opportunity, Tori grabbed the gun. Tragically, it went off, killing him. But it triggered the response of police and eventual freedom for most of the hostages,” Fisher said. “Reports have also emerged that Katrina Dawson was shielding her pregnant friend from gunfire. These heroes were willing to lay down their lives so others might live.”
New South Wales Deputy Police Commissioner Catherine Burn declined to comment on any individual’s actions, saying what transpired in the cafe remained under investigation.
“This will all come out in time, no doubt,” Burn said. “Can I just say, I think every single one of those hostages, every single one of those victims, acted courageously.”
Dawson was the mother of three young children, Chloe, Sasha and Oliver, and a highly respected commercial lawyer. She was remembered as “one of our best and brightest” by New South Wales Bar Association president Jane Needham.
Andrew Powell, head of the Ascham School, which Dawson attended in her youth, said she was a well-respected and giving woman who excelled at her studies. Dawson’s daughter Chloe is a student at the school and Sasha will be attending next year.
Dawson was the school’s debating captain and played hockey and basketball. After she became a lawyer, she helped teach senior students at her former school how to prepare for mock trials.
Johnson was remembered as a selfless man who put others first.
“By nature he was a perfectionist and he had a genuine passion for the hospitality industry and people,” Lindt Australia CEO Steve Loane said in a statement. “His loss is absolutely tragic.”
Johnson was a graduate of Washington State University in the U.S. who graduated with honors in 2003 with a degree in hotel and restaurant administration, according to University Spokesman Rob Strenge. He said Johnson apparently transferred to WSU for his final year.
Johnson’s parents issued a brief statement, thanking the public for its support.
“We are so proud of our beautiful boy Tori, gone from this earth but forever in our memories as the most amazing life partner, son and brother we could ever wish for,” they said.