Listen: Louisa Hope was a hostage in the Lindt Cafe Siege in Sydney’s Martin Place. She shared her story with Emma Mullings.
The greatest miracle about Sydney Siege survivor Louisa Hope, is not that she lived to tell her story.
It’s that she has peace, looks forward to her future, and refuses to hate Man Haron Monis—the disturbed man whose actions inside the Lindt Café left her with lasting grief, and gun wounds that are still healing.
Louisa, 52, is one of the 17 people whom Monis took hostage on December 15, 2014, using them to try and achieve his confused, misguided aims. He used Louisa and her mother as human shields in the final hours of the 17-hour siege, making them stand on either side of him in a desperate bid to avoid being shot by police.
According to the Daily Telegraph, Monis chose Louisa as a shield because she suffers from multiple sclerosis and did not have the strength to fight back or flee.
And yet, one year on from that harrowing day when two innocent lives where taken, Louisa – a devout Christian – speaks more of her gratitude and peace, than dark memories or pain.
“The sadness of losing two people, the grief of that will never lift,” she told Hope Media’s Emma Mullings in an interview this week.” But I’m very grateful just the same, and amazed that my mother and I both survived,”
Horror Standoff Began As “An Ordinary Summer’s Day”
Louisa spoke to Emma in detail about her experience in the Lindt Café, in which barrister Katrina Dawson and cafe manager Tori Johnson lost their lives.
“It was a really ordinary summer’s day,” she said. “Mum and I went into the café and were just having breakfast, waiting to go and visit a barrister closeby.
“And then the next minute, there’s somebody standing up and telling us that we’re all hostages. I thought it was one of those bad “Candid Camera” type moments, and then I saw the gun and realised it was for real. It was happening.”
That was the terrifying start of a long and, in Louisa’s words, “busy” day – in which the gunman kept hostages occupied with tasks like contacting news outlets, in order to gain media attention.
In other interviews, Louisa has said that Monis acted in many strange ways.
“We had very bizarre times from the point of view that the gunman was giving us water, toilet breaks and food and then at the same time was willing to kill us,” she told the ABC.
In The Face Of Death, A Sense Of Peace
In her interview with Hope Media, Louisa said that the day, though horrific, was marked with a strange and deep sense of peace.
“I think that Christian people would understand that “peace of God that surpasses all understanding”,” she said. “I had that sense with me all day, in my heart.
“As different things happened, three times in particular, my logical head kicked in and said, “Well, I might feel peaceful but there’s no way I’m going to survive this. I will die”. But the truth of it is, that I kind of just had that overwhelming peace in the moment.
“It’s hard to describe in many ways, because it’s not logical, it’s not sensible, it’s not how we live in our ordinary, everyday life. We live with facts and figures. But that sense of peace that was with me was a great comfort and reassurance.”
She Prayed Constantly
It may be thanks to the prayers of Louisa – and any other hostages who prayed – that more lives were not lost.
“I was praying like crazy,” she told Emma Mullings.
“Prayer is the bedrock of my life, it’s where I’m at, so it’s something that’s just part of my day anyway. So yes I was praying, all through the day.
“When we had those little moments – which weren’t many – but those little moments of “stop and steady”, I was able to be more intense about my prayer. But those who pray, know that you just pray without ceasing, and trust God.”
One of her greatest concerns was to protect her mother Robyn, 68, who Monis had separated from her and placed on the other side of the café.
“Mum was very angry with him, and very vocal towards him,” she said, “so my concern with her was trying to keep her from chastising him too much and trying to keep her safe in that regard.
“And she I know was trying to protect me, God love her.”
Wounded In The Gun Battle
When police arrived in the café, Louisa said the sound and sight of the gunfire was “terrifying”.
“It was another one of those moments where I thought, “I’m going to die. I’ve survived this whole day but we’re going to die in this moment”.
Initially she closed her eyes, but once she realised she may die, she opened them to watch what was happening. That’s when she discovered the wound in her foot, a hole that was as big as a fist.
“I was shot in the foot and I took some shrapnel to my belly,” she said. “I thought I’d lost my foot. I couldn’t see all that much because of the smoke and the dark, but I saw my sandal missing, and I suddenly went, “Oh dear, that really hurts”, and I thought “I’ve lost my foot for sure”.
“But fortunately I still have my foot and I’m still able to walk. It’s taking its own good time to get better, but I’m so blessed.”
Police took Louisa and her mother out of the café in opposite directions, and until she had confirmation that her mother had escaped, Louisa believed she’d died.
“That was a very strange sort of feeling,” she said. “I was thinking “thankyou God that I’ve survived, I’m so grateful, but I’m sure my mother’s dead”. “It was grief and elation at the same time.”
Refusing To Make Room For Hate
As a Christian, Louisa said she believed it was “of no value” to waste energy feeling hatred for Man Monis. She doesn’t even think of him.
“I totally understand that it would be the most natural reaction to fear and loathe and hate that man,” she said, “but it’s of absolutely no value to myself or anyone around me, if I indulge that reaction or feeling.
“When people say often, “Do you forgive him”, I’m like, “Well I never hated him to start with, to have to go through the process of forgiving”. I can’t kind of fluff my way through an answer and say “yes I forgive him”, because I never allowed myself to hate him in the first place.
“We always have that choice, every day. As the expression says, “we can’t control what happens around us, but we can control how we react to it”. And that’s the truest thing.
“This is the reality of the grace of God. It’s indeed a mystery, but when one lives in relationship with God, that’s just part of how every day goes.
“Whether it’s a gunman in a café that’s threatening your life, or it’s someone who offends you, or someone who does something that distresses you, the reality is when you live in God’s grace, you always have a choice not to react out of your base instincts—but to choose your higher calling and your higher purpose.”
How The Siege Changed Louisa Hope’s View On Life
Louisa is often asked how the siege changed her life, and she has said in an interview with Common Grace that she already lived with a sense of purpose before that day.
“My life purpose is to serve God, by loving and bringing encouragement to people wherever I can,” she said, “and this has been my motivation throughout my life.”
But she said going through the siege has sharpened her prayers and defined her sense of calling much more.
“I’ve always believed in holding the attitude that one lives one’s life on purpose, and as Christians we read books and scriptures receive them into our hearts and just go about our ordinary life,” she said.
“But when something comes crashing into your life, that’s when the reality of those life philosophies or the ideas we receive, kicks in.
“So for me this year, I’ve very much had that strong sense of God’s direction, and being actively involved in participating in God’s purpose for my life.”
Turning Evil To Good By Supporting Good Causes
After spending three months in the Prince Of Wales Hospital having her wounds treated, Louisa wanted to find a way to show her deep gratitude to the nurses who cared for her.
The answer to this wish came when Channel Nine’s 60 Minutes approached her for an interview about the siege. She refused to profit from the interview.
“Any time that we were going to share our story I wanted it to be purposeful and loving and in no way denigrate people,” she explained. “I wasn’t interested in anything that was negative about the police, or Muslim people for example, and all that kind of thing.”
Where other survivors took large amounts of payment for their TV interviews, Louisa instead asked that the money be passed onto the Prince Of Wales Foundation.
“We created this fund that the nurses apply to, to use that for things that they want on the ward – an extra special piece of equipment, or some training, or to do some research, to create a new system or something,” she said.
“They already had the ideas, they just needed that seed money to find a way to bring these things about.”
Donations can be made to the nurse’s fund, through the Standing with Louisa Hope crowdfunding page.
Encouraging Others To Love Their Neighbour
As a way of expressing her love and her wish to promote peace and unity, Louisa is also supporting a Christian justice organisation called Common Grace.
“I’m wanting to find ways to encourage Christian brothers and sisters, to “love thy neighbour”—to think beyond just the people that they know and love, and reach out further into the community,” she said.
“If nothing else comes out of this situation, I’m hoping that we find ways to positively connect with other people in our community, so that we can truly serve them and share the love of God with them in new ways.
“Because if we don’t do it as Christian people, how can it be done?”