A man with a reported history of mental illness was on Saturday remanded in custody after being charged with the murder of Punjab-born bus driver Manmeet Alisher in the Australian city of Brisbane.
Anthony Mark Edward O’Donohue, 48, allegedly hurled an incendiary device at Alisher on Friday, setting him alight and killing him on the spot. The family of Alisher, 29, has said they believe the attack was racially motivated though Brisbane police said there was no apparent motive for the killing.
O’Donohue, who was injured in the attack, appeared briefly in the Brisbane magistrates court on Saturday morning and was charged with the murder of Alisher, 11 counts of attempted murder related to passengers in the bus and arson, ABC reported.
Outside the court, his lawyer Adam Magill said O’Donohue was “numb”. He added, “His major concern as far as I’m concerned at this point in time is his mental health, that needs to be assessed.”
Magill acknowledged the case was “very heinous” and said he did not expect O’Donohue to apply for bail.
“He’s numb at this stage...I don’t think he’s feeling anything at this point in time. He’s trying to come to terms with what happened himself,” Magill said.
Police officials were astonished by O’Donohue’s reaction after the attack. The 7 News channel quoted its sources as saying that when detectives arrived at the scene of the attack, O’Donohue was sitting casually and saying nothing other than “I want a lawyer”.
Police delayed entering O’Donohoe’s nearby apartment because they feared it could be booby-trapped. O’Donohue has a history of mental illness but he had never done anything as violent as Friday’s attack, police said.
Officials said on Friday that Alisher “stood no chance” and died soon after the device was thrown at him. O’Donohue, who was among passengers waiting to board the bus at a stop when he carried out the attack, was arrested on the spot.
Superintendent Jim Keogh said there was “no apparent motive” for the attack and that police had ruled out terrorism.
Bus drivers across Brisbane wore black armbands on Saturday as a mark of respect for Alisher and his family. The flag over the City Hall in Brisbane flew at half mast.
Watch these two short films made by Alisher
Hundreds of people who gathered for a vigil at the site of the attack on Friday night placed flowers and lit candles. Hundreds more gathered at the Brisbane Sikh Temple at Eight Mile Plains on Saturday for a special memorial service for Alisher, who was also known as Manmeet Sharma.
Alisher’s friends Jaswinder Santh and Saibjit Singh had said he was a go-getter who worked very hard since he moved to Australia nine years ago. They said he planned to release a single in the New Year and he had told them that “he would become a star”.
Close friend Reshpal Singh told the media that Alisher was also a talented actor who produced short films and stage plays. Alisher was also a regular announcer on Brisbane’s 4EB ethnic radio station, he added.
Alisher’s younger brother Amit Sharma told Hindustan Times in Sangrur that his sibling was set to return home in December year to finalise his marriage. Family members still haven’t told Alisher’s aged parents of his death because they fear they will not be able to endure the shock, he added.
“My parents can’t survive such news and due to this fear, the family has not told them about the death of Manmeet. He was coming in December as we have almost finalised a girl for his marriage in early January,” Sharma said.
Sharma also said the family suspects the killing was racially motivated. “The police says there was no apparent indication it was a race-related incident, but authorities are still not clearly saying why the man threw some inflammable liquid only on my brother and set him ablaze,” he said.
Navdeep Suri, the Indian high commissioner to Australia, tweeted the following.
It is a terrible tragedy.Have personally spoken with Queensland police and with family of Manmeet.— Indian HC in Aus (@navdeepsuri) October 28, 2016
Doing everything possible from side. https://t.co/WC9XNUee9L
A promising young life extinguished for no reason. Manmeet wrote short stories, was engaged with theatre, even made short documentaries. https://t.co/wcvhK3RIrl— Indian HC in Aus (@navdeepsuri) October 28, 2016
Manmeet's assailant is in police custody. He had a history of mental illness, which is no consolation for friends and family of Manmeet https://t.co/WC9XNUee9L— Indian HC in Aus (@navdeepsuri) October 28, 2016