SYDNEY, Australia — A lone gunman fired several gunshots inside Canberra Airport Sunday, prompting a rapid evacuation and grounding flights in Australia’s capital, according to witnesses and the police.
In a statement, the Australian Federal Police said that the police had been called to the airport about 1:30 p.m. local time, and that one person was taken into custody and a firearm recovered. No injuries were reported, and it was believed no one was involved in the episode other than the person in custody.
Images posted online by travelers and reporters at the scene showed damaged windows and the apparent arrest of the suspect, handcuffed and detained by the police.
Mass or random shootings in Australia are very rare. After a series of mass shootings in the 90s, the country enacted strict gun laws, and stabbings are now the most common cause of death for homicides.
In 2021, there were just 370 homicides and related crimes, such as manslaughter, according to government statistics, in a country of about 25 million. And Canberra, the capital, tends to be even safer than most of the country’s major cities.
Many Australians reacted with surprise to the news of the shooting.
Witnesses described a scene of scary, unexpected chaos. At around 1:30 p.m., they said they saw a man shooting in the air not far from the main check-in counters of the open, modern airport.
A woman who gave her name only as Helen, who was flying to Melbourne with her husband, told The Guardian that the man was middle-aged, “clean-cut” and holding a pistol.
She said she heard around a half-dozen shots.
“Security just said ‘Run, run’, so we all ran outside,” she said.
Dan Bourchier, a journalist for ABC, tweeted he was sitting in a plane on the airport tarmac, and “the captain just told us the AFP is doing a ‘security sweep’ of the airport after we were told the airport has been evacuated.”