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Sydney: Irishman ‘hid in storeroom’ during stabbing

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RTÉ News Niall NaughtonRTÉ News

Niall Naughton said shoppers were ‘screaming and crying’ as they fled to safety

An Irishman who was in the Sydney shopping centre where six people were fatally stabbed has described the “panic” that unfolded as shoppers fled.

Niall Naughton from County Clare was in a shop trying on new clothes when the attack started at Westfield Bondi Junction on Saturday afternoon.

He said staff in the shop escorted him and other customers into a basement storeroom where they hid until they all managed to escape to safety.

The knifeman was shot dead by police.

Eight other people were taken to hospital injured, including a nine-month-old baby.

Mr Naughton, who has been living in Sydney for the past seven months, said the attack had shaken him to his core.

‘Get out, get out, get out’

Speaking to Irish broadcaster RTÉ, he explained he was changing clothes in a dressing room in Zara when he first realised something was wrong.

“I could hear what sounded like a stampede of cattle coming running through the shop,” he told the Saturday with Colm Ó Mongáin programme.

“Obviously I had the curtain closed in the dressing room so I couldn’t see anything, but I could hear everything.

“Next thing somebody pulled back my curtain and said: ‘Get out, get out, get out. You need to go, you need to go. There’s stabbing, someone’s stabbing’.”

Staff working in the clothes shop ushered as many customers as they could into a storeroom in the basement and they managed to bolt the door.

“Everyone was in such a state of panic. I think everyone was really, really just in such distress and overwhelmed, and everyone was screaming and crying,” Mr Naughton said.

“It was absolutely horrific and there were even kids as young as four years of age in the room with us,”

He explained that he and other customers were not aware of where the threat was coming from or how many people were involved, because when they fled to the basement they did not have time to look back to see what was going on.

“I couldn’t even reach for my phone at this stage because there were so many of us crammed into the room,” he explained.

 Reuters Emergency services outside Westfield Bondi Junction shopping centre Reuters

Six people died in the attack at Westfield Bondi Junction shopping centre

They hid in the storeroom for about five to 10 minutes, until a staff member pointed towards an emergency exit door which opened onto the back of the building.

Mr Naughton was the person nearest to the exit and so he opened the door and slowly put his head out to look around, checking for any more danger.

“I could see hundreds and hundreds of people coming running across the road,” he said.

“There’s a two-way street there and they were coming running across in front of cars.

“There was cars, like, driving a full speed. It was like something you would see out of a movie. It was that scary.”

Still not knowing who was behind the attack or if it was continuing, he then fled from the building and called friends to pick him up and take him to safety.

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Mr Naughton works as a mental health manager in Sydney and said he believes it will take a lot of time for him and other people who were caught up in the panic to come to terms with what happened.

“This has properly shook me to the core,” he said.

“I’ve never in my life thought I’d ever be in an incident where I’d be in in some form of attack like that.”

He also paid tribute to the shop workers who helped lead customers to safety.

“The staff did, to the best of their ability try and protect us,” he said.

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Sydney has a big Irish population but it is the Irish government’s understanding that no Irish citizens have been killed or injured in the stabbing.

“But many may have witnessed the traumatic events,” said James Browne, a junior minister at the Irish Department of Justice.

He said the government’s thoughts were with those witnesses and, in particular, with the families who have lost loved ones and those who were injured.

“It’s a horrendous attack,” Mr Browne added.

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