Australians joined in a shared moment of grief Wednesday, putting aside daily routines to observe a minute of silence for the 35 victims of a gunman who turned a carefree tourist site into a slaughterhouse.
At 10:30 a.m., streetcars stopped running, financial exchanges halted their transactions and radio and television stations fell silent. Churches opened their doors to welcome grieving people seeking solace.After the minute of silence, a nationally televised memorial service from St. David's Anglican Cathedral in Hobart began.
Thirty-five candles, each representing one of the people killed Sunday, were placed at the foot of a simple wooden crucifix erected in front of the ornate altar.
The hundreds of mourners included family, friends and neighbors of the people slain at Port Arthur, a historic tourist spot on the island of Tasmania, 30 miles northwest of Hobart. A few survivors of the bloodbath also came to pray.
Through the hymns and prayers, many sobbed and hugged loved ones as they tried to come to grips with the scale of the worst massacre in Australia's modern history.
Some 800 worshipers filled the sandstone cathedral. Many more spilled outside. Some sat in temporary stands erected in closed-off streets.
The slayings "have plunged us into the darkness of grief," Tasmania's Anglican Bishop Phillip Newell said in his eulogy.
"The suddenness of the assault, the scope of the massacre, the senselessness of the carnage, have left us in deep shock and even anger," Newell said.
Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist and Muslim clergy read from their respective holy books at the service.
Flags across Australia flew at half-staff as mark of respect and sorrow. Services were held in other cities as well.
"No one in our small community goes untouched by this wickedness. Pain is etched in every face," Tasmanian state Premier Peter Rundle told the congregation.
Queen Elizabeth II, Australia's head of state, sent a message of condolence that was read at the service. Another message came from Dunblane, Scotland, where 16 kindergartners and their teacher were shot to death seven weeks ago.