Steve Middleton was standing with a customer in the outdoor marketplace in the Hornsby Westfield precinct when he said he saw a man with a “slight smile on his face” and armed with a carving knife walked past his bread stall.
Graphic footage emerged on Thursday night of the moments where the female officer opened fire on Jerry Sourian, 23, as he allegedly ran at her with the knife in the packed shopping centre.
Two officers had arrived at the scene to calm Mr Sourian, who had been reported missing from a nearby psychiatric facility a day earlier, after receiving a triple zero call.
“When he ran towards them they fired shots. I imagine he got hit, it was pretty close range,” Mr Middleton said.
A female shopper can be heard screaming that she had been shot. Unperturbed, the man turned around before doubling back and running at the police again.
“Again she said ‘stop’,” he said, but the man continued to charge.
The officer fired another round of shots, felling the man.
By the time the gunfire had ended, three women – aged between 60 and 80 and all of whom were bystanders – had also been shot by police bullets, or fragments of police bullets.
Assistant Commissioner Dennis Clifford said all four people were now in hospital in a stable condition and a critical incident investigation would now examine the police actions.
“A decision was made by those officers in a life and death situation,” he said.
Assistant Commissioner Clifford said Mr Sourian was known to police and was now under police guard in hospital.
“I will say that the man is known to us,” he said. “I understand that he was reported missing from a psychiatric centre near here yesterday and police were making efforts to try and locate him.”
Assistant Commissioner Clifford said the officers had a Taser available to them but chose not to use it. He said there was “only a matter of metres” between the man and the officers who had only a “matter of seconds” to act in the “confined area of the shopping mall”.
“I wonder what might have happened if the police had not intervened and stopped this person with the knife,” Assistant Commissioner Clifford said.
One of the women struck was standing with Mr Middleton, who saw the entire incident unfold from only metres away.
“I thought she was screaming because of what was happening and then she says ‘I’ve been shot’,” he said. “I looked down and there was thick blood coming out of her.”
Mr Middleton said he believed the bullet which struck his customer may have ricocheted off a nearby fountain.
Staff from the nearby St George bank rushed to help the woman, placing her in a green fabric chair while they waited for paramedics to arrive.
Adam Stratton, a butcher whose shop is about 30 metres away from the shooting scene, said he heard three loud bangs before people started running into his shop and into the mall.
He locked the shop’s door, fearing a gunman may have been in the mall.
When he went outside, he could see four people lying on the ground bleeding.
“It was just like, what the hell is going on?” Mr Stratton said. “I saw four people down with blood streaming out of them.”
Westfield Hornsby continued to trade in the aftermath of the shooting with a crime scene expected to remain in place for the rest of Thursday.
The incident came less than three months after a fatal stabbing at a restaurant at the same shopping centre.
At the time, terrified diners told how a man walked into a restaurant and stabbed a man to death and wounded a woman, before calmly walking outside covered in the couple’s blood.