Snap decision that led victim to deadly Lindt Cafe siege
The young woman behind the counter of the cafe was noticeably distracted as Louisa Hope handed over the money for two coffees and a few bits of toast.
There was an unusual expression on the girl's face, she thought - a mix of confusion and something else, like panic or maybe even dread.
"She was looking over my shoulder. She could see what I couldn't - him standing up and making his speech," Louisa recalled.
It was 9.44am on December 15, 2014 and Man Haron Monis had just walked into the Lindt Cafe in Martin Place in the middle of Sydney, carrying a blue bag.
The Iranian-born refugee was wearing a black-and-white headband inscribed with an Arabic phrase: "We are ready to sacrifice for you, Mohammad."
"I thought it was a joke," Louisa said.
"We were across from Channel 7 and I wondered if it was maybe a candid camera moment or something, you know. Some sort of silly nonsense."
He began yelling and demanded staff turn off the sliding glass door, instructing Lindt Cafe manager Tori Johnson to call triple-0.
When he - Louisa won't use his name - pulled out a sawn-off pump action shotgun, Louisa realised this was no stunt. Monis told the hostages he had a bomb in his bag, and had planted several others across the city.
"In that moment I thought, oh gosh, this is it - he's going to kill us. That's what terrorists do, right? I thought, this is the day I die."
Her eyes shot towards her mother, Robyn, still sitting at their table in the corner where they'd been enjoying a quick breakfast just moments earlier.
They almost didn't go to the Lindt Cafe that morning, except for a chance decision a few hours earlier that would ultimately change the course of Louisa's life.
COFFEE AND TOAST
Louisa knew the Lindt Cafe very well.
Back when she worked in the city, just around the corner at Macquarie Bank, it was her regular go-to for morning coffees and had hosted countless team meetings.
"Mum and I had some family business at our lawyer's office that morning, a quick appointment upstairs in the same building as the Lindt Cafe," Louisa recalled.
"My mother was living out near the Blue Mountains at the time so we'd made a bit of a treat of it, staying at the Hilton in the city the night before. We had a lovely dinner together.
"In the morning, we thought about staying at the hotel for breakfast but I suggested we go up to Lindt. It was a sliding doors moment - a random decision, just going about our business."
They ordered two coffees and a few pieces of toast - just a quick breakfast. They'd have a longer lunch somewhere nice later on, Louisa decided.
"It was a warm morning and quite lovely outside," she said.
"We were talking about what we might do after our appointment. Christmas was close and we were talking about having family visiting. It was utterly normal."
Until it wasn't.
Monis quickly separated Louisa from her mum Robyn when he realised they knew each other, making them sit apart.
He seemed paranoid about the prospect of the 18 hostages - 10 customers and eight Lindt staff - conspiring together to overpower him.
"He had total control over everything," Louisa explained. "He didn't want us to communicate among ourselves. He told us where to sit, where to stand. He moved us around.
"He would tell us to close our eyes and then later to keep them open. He was very clear about the fact that he didn't want us to talk to each other. He was concerned we would cause a disruption."
As the hours wore on, Louisa began to lose track of time. The sun started to set on the city, slipping behind tall buildings and casting deep shadows across Martin Place.
Was it afternoon or early evening? She couldn't be sure.
"I lost track of what time it was. I had no idea. It was a bit of a blur.
"My mother had a bit more of an idea of what time it really was. For me, it was day and then suddenly night."
The hostages weren't allowed to communicate but it was almost as though they had a collective understanding of how they could survive.
And so, silently, they executed their unspoken plan.
'KEEP HIM BUSY'
Throughout the afternoon, hostages were told to hold a black flag in the window of the cafe, which carried the message: "There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of God."
Monis demanded to speak to then Prime Minister Tony Abbott and for their conversation to be broadcast live on radio. The demand was refused.
He forced a number of people to appear in several videos that he recorded and posted on YouTube - Louisa being one of them.
"At the same time, as the hours wore on, he was trying to get us to get the media's attention. That's what he wanted. He was keeping us busy with all of that.
"Collectively, even though we didn't speak about it because we couldn't, I think we all understood that we had to keep him busy and wait for the police to come.
"While we kept him focused, he wouldn't think about what he'd threatened to do to us, which was to kill us all."
Some of the hostages, Louisa included, were used as human shields as Monis moved around the cafe, standing between him and the trained scopes of snipers outside.
"It's just insane to think about it," she said.
"When you put your logical hat on and think about everything that happened that day, it's just so surreal."
Word began to filter in that police hadn't located any of the bombs that Monis claimed to have planted throughout the city, including at the Sydney Opera House.
The hostages wondered if there really was an explosive device in the blue bag he was carrying, but with his gun pointed at them, and with the promise that they were all going to die, no-one could be entirely sure.
A GUARDIAN ANGEL
Louisa grew increasingly concerned about her mum throughout the day, particularly as Robyn began to lose patience with the gunman.
"I knew pretty quickly Mum wasn't going to keep quiet, and she didn't," Louisa chuckled.
"She was giving him a bit of back chat throughout the day. We all know our mother's angry voice, right? I could hear it coming. I'm thinking, 'Oh no, Mum, stop'.
"At one stage the gunman said to me, 'Louisa, keep your mother quiet.' I thought, my goodness, what a thing to ask me to do - he obviously doesn't know my mum."
Lindt Cafe manager Tori was allowed to go to the bathroom at one point, and when he returned, he sat himself next to Robyn.
"He positioned himself with her," Louisa said.
"He held her hand for the rest of the day and comforted her. He tried to keep her calm. He was so wonderful with her."
At 1.43am on December 16, as the siege entered its final hour, Tori sent a text message to his family about Monis' changing demeanour.
"He's increasingly agitated, walks around when he hears a noise outside with a hostage in front of him. Wants to release one person in good faith, tell police."
Just after 2am, several hostages made a break for it and Monis shot at them as they fled from the building.
Ten minutes later, he fired again and police monitoring a covert listening device heard him reload. Another hostage escaped. Tactical officers positioned themselves at the door.
At 2.14am, Monis shot and killed Tori, who was 34. A sniper yelled "hostage down" into his radio and the snap decision was made for police to storm the cafe.
Almost a dozen stun grenades went off and multiple rounds were fired by officers, who shot and killed Monis. Barrister Katrina Dawson, 38, was hit by stray bullets and died.
The hours before had been a somewhat confusing blur for Louisa, but those final minutes of the ordeal are frighteningly clear in her mind.
"That's the part that stays with me, five years later. It's a thought in my head every day. It occupies parts of my mind constantly.
"The tragedy of it, the shock of it, remains undiminished. Tori and Katrina. It's still so sad."
Three hostages were injured in the storm of gunfire.
Louisa was one of them, a bullet going through her foot, her mum Robyn was hit in the shoulder, and another cafe customer, Marcia Mihkael, was shot in the leg.
Louisa recalls being pulled out of the cafe on a stretcher and bundled into an ambulance.
"I remember it now, I was out on Phillip Street, and I thought, 'My God, how are we - all of us - ever going to recover from this?'
"What had just happened was so unthinkable, so horrific."
THE POWER OF GOOD
Louisa was rushed to the Prince of Wales Hospital at Randwick. The then 54-year-old, who also lives with multiple sclerosis, spent three months in care recovering.
"The nurses were just wonderful. So brilliant. That's what I was really struck by and thanks to them, it was kind of a happy place after the siege, at Prince of Wales."
After she eventually went home, it wasn't long before Louisa was struck with a sobering reality.
"You know, there's no such thing as normal anymore. You can't go back to where you were before," she said.
"I believe in living my life on purpose. When a circumstance like this comes, you either give into it or rise up through it. I looked for the good in this awful, awful situation."
She founded the Louisa Hope Fund For Nurses at the Prince of Wales Hospital.
It was her way of making something positive out of a truly awful experience. She was also inspired by the tireless work of the nurses who cared for her.
"How blessed am I to be able to be involved with these amazing people?" Louisa said.
The fund has so far raised $360,000 at Prince of Wales, funding equipment, research and care initiatives devised from nursing staff.
"People are so generous. The generosity of Australians is just incredible.
"It's been such a happy and positive thing for me to do. It has taken me on a positive trajectory. As a consequence of that, in the process of fundraising, I started to speak publicly about the siege, which has helped too."
FIVE YEARS ON
"Here we are again," Louisa said of the five-year anniversary of the siege, which brought the country to a standstill.
"It's a reflective day. I try to spend it with family or friends. We collectively pause and be together in one way or another.
"Now that Mum has passed, it makes it all the more poignant for all of us. I get a lot of calls and messages from people.
"At some stage on the day, I try to go to the memorial, just to be there in the moment. It's about respect for the people that we lost."
In the days and weeks that followed the 2014 siege which shocked the nation, Martin Place played host to an extraordinary and moving outpouring of grief from members of the public.
An enormous makeshift memorial began to build, with thousands of bunches of flowers placed near the site of the tragedy.
"I've always felt that what happened in the siege didn't just happen to those of us in the cafe, but to our whole country," Louisa said. "I feel like we have a social contract together, to still talk about it and learn the lessons."
Among those lessons are compassion, empathy and purpose, she said.
To Donate to the Prince of Wales Hospital Foundation Louisa Hope Fund For Nurses, click here.