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Shoppers return to ‘eerie’ mall after massacre

It was a low key return to trading at Westfield Bondi Junction after Saturday’s stabbing attack. (Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS)

By Sam McKeith in Sydney

An eerie silence greeted shoppers as they returned to a major Sydney shopping centre for the first time since it became the site of a stabbing massacre.

Bondi Junction local Stephen Roy had a simple phrase for the suburb’s normally buzzing Westfield shopping centre as it reopened to trade on Friday: “Really quiet”.

“A few of the shops are shut – maybe it’s just some of the employees don’t want to come back,” he said from the mall’s fifth level, where a police officer shot dead Joel Cauchi and ended his deadly rampage.

Mr Roy was one of hundreds of shoppers who returned to the scene on Friday as the centre reopened for business nearly a week after Australia’s worst mass killing in recent years.

Six people died during or after the attack, while a dozen were seriously injured – many of whom remain in hospital.

Inside, security guards in black stab-proof vests were stationed on each floor, while electronic displays showed a black ribbon – a tribute to the victims of the attack – as a floral tribute continued to grow outside.

On level six, Sydneysider Anthony Simpson, shopping with his two children, described the atmosphere at the usually busy shopping centre as “sombre”.

“It’s got an eerie feeling, I guess you could say,” Mr Simpson, who grew up in the area, told AAP.

NSW Police continue to probe what motivated Cauchi, a 40-year-old Queensland man with a history of mental health issues, to carry out the massacre and the likelihood he targeted women – who were the majority of the victims.

One man – security guard Faraz Tahir, 30 – was among the six people murdered.

Six injured people remained in hospital on Friday, including a nine-month-old baby girl whose mother, Ashlee Good, 38, died from injuries sustained in the attack.

Jeni Diekman, a pharmacist at the centre, was heading back to her shop after a “devastating” attack that affected the whole community.

She praised authorities and centre management for making trauma counselling available to those working when the rampage took place.

“Particularly, if you’ve had trauma in your life before, this sort of thing can re-traumatise,” she said.

A NSW government support package, including mental-health assistance, is available to workers at the centre, while various private sector services are helping the broader community.

Hundreds of people gathered in the shopping centre on Friday to pay their respects to those affected by the attack, adding their condolences and bouquets.

Premier Chris Minns described the day of reflection as “the first step in healing”.

Health Minister Ryan Park said those still hospitalised had “very, very significant injuries” and it was a miracle they had survived.

The state government is considering stricter knife laws following the Bondi stabbing and a non-fatal attack on a bishop at a western Sydney church.

All aspects of the Westfield killings, including knife laws, would be looked at as part of a major coronial investigation and government review following the tragedy, Mr Park said.

“But we do have to remember that people sometimes carry out behaviour that is highly unpredictable and this was one of those cases that had terrifying consequences,” he said.

Weapon and protective equipment rules for security guards are also being reviewed.

But federal Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus downplayed a suggestion targeting women should be made a terrorism offence.

“I think we can talk about violence against women without blurring lines into something else,” he said.

A candlelight vigil at nearby Bondi Beach will be held on Sunday evening, including a minute’s silence to honour victims.

Mr Faraz, a refugee who fled persecution in his native Pakistan, will be farewelled at a funeral in western Sydney on April 26.

Time for men to end violence: Attorney-General

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