He lost his wife and two daughters in Australia’s worst ever mass shooting in 1996, but Walter Mikac has incredibly overcome his grief in the years since to push for changes to gun laws and an end to violence against children.
Now he has opened up about the horrific tragedy on ABC’s Anh’s Brush With Fame – set to air in two weeks time – recalling how he wanted to die when he was told that they’d all been shot.
A total of 35 people were killed and 23 injured in Port Arthur, Tasmania, when gunman Martin Bryant opened fire at the historic site on April 28, 1996.
Walter recalls the dreadful day to Anh on the show, revealing how his wife tried desperately to save their children’s lives by pleading with the gunman to spare them.
While they had travelled to the site to enjoy a picnic together, Walter was instead attending a golf day with friends – the day before his birthday – and he remembers giving both of his daughters a big hug as they waved him off from outside the house.
He tells Anh he was around the 14th hole, in the early afternoon, when he began hearing shots from across the bay. However, he and his friends put the noise down to a battle re-enactment taking place at the site and laughed it off, never suspecting something so awful could happen in the peaceful area.
“It wasn’t really until after we finished and we were sitting there maybe having some lunch, around 3 o’ clock in the afternoon, when these people rushed in saying, ‘Someone’s shooting at the historic site and there’s people been killed’,” he says on the show.
“Straight away obviously alarm bells started ringing because I thought, ‘I need to go and check this out’. I drove home first and there was no-one home.”
Walter wrote his wife a note before travelling to the nearby site, where he found their car in the car park and knew they must be there.
“In my heart I had a sickly feeling, which wasn’t good, about the whole day. I was expecting something bad, but you can never expect it to be that situation,” he admits.
Walter was kept in a house close to the site with some of his friends as the area remained cordoned off by police. He says: “It was like an eternity waiting to find out.”
It was early evening when he says the local doctor – who had been close friends with Nanette – found him and told him the awful news that she and both of his daughters had been shot and killed.
“It was like a primal scream, [as if] someone had actually stabbed me… My initial thought was, ‘I just want to go as well. I don’t want to be here if they’re not here. My initial thought was to run out into the site and hopefully be there, to die with them’,” he says.
“But obviously my friends were all there, they were all holding me and trying to comfort me in whatever way they could.”
He adds: “I just kept saying, ‘Couldn’t you even have left me one?'”
Walter later found out what happened and recalls how Nanette had run up the hill with the kids, before the gunman drove up and stopped behind them. It’s then he said that she began pleading for the children’s lives, asking him to spare them.
“But he shot her and then he shot the children,” the emotional dad says on camera. “And he actually went… Alannah was hiding behind a tree and he actually went up to her and shot her there.”
“That plea for the children’s lives; that’s parenting, that’s nurturing at its best,” he says of his former wife, while breaking down in tears. “That takes more courage than anything else you ever need to do.”
Walter ended up returning to the site on his birthday the next day, which he admits now was essential to help him accept they weren’t coming back.
Asked how he kept going, Walter says he focused completely on hope – that each day would get a little bit better – and that he’ll one day see them again.
“I hope and I pray every single day that I do get to just give them another cuddle and just hold them,” he adds.
Incredibly, as he continued to battle his grief, Walter chose to attend the gunman’s trial.
“To sit in court and have the person plead not guilty to all those charges, I remember thinking while I was sitting there, ‘I just want to jump that dock and I just don’t want him to be here anymore’,” he admits on the show. “But that wasn’t going to bring them back. There are times you have to go against what your heart’s really saying.”
Walter has since made it his life’s mission to battle for tighter gun control in Australia, even setting up the Alannah and Madeline Foundation in his daughters’ memory, working to stop violence against children.
While every Australian prime minister since then has supported the cause, Princess Mary is also the foundation’s international patron.
In 2000, he went on to marry journalist Kim Sporton, before they welcomed daughter Isabella the following year.
He admits on camera that the hardest part of moving on with someone else was accepting that he may one day lose them too, but he insists he needed to take the leap of faith. The couple have since separated, but he remains close to his daughter.
Walter Mikac’s full interview on Anh’s Brush With Fame will air on the ABC on May 22 at 8pm.