NT Police Officer Lee Morgan, who responded to a call from Darwin shooter Benjamin Hoffmann, shares his story

Detective Superintendent Lee Morgan remembers exactly where he was when the first triple-0 call arrived, at dusk on June 4, 2019.

“We get countless reports of gunshots that turned out to be fireworks,” he recalled.

“The first assessment was, is it the middle of Darwin, who drops tricks?”

But within about 30 seconds, the telephone lines at Darwin’s emergency communications center were livening up with calls from downtown.

And it wasn’t fireworks.

The alleged shooter is being held at the Royal Darwin Hospital.(ABC News: Clara Latter)

Instead, it was the start of a terrifying drug-fueled shootout led by parolee Benjamin Glen Hoffmann that culminated yesterday in the 48-year-old being sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.

At the police headquarters emergency call center, 15 miles out of town, then-Duty Superintendent Lee Morgan and his colleague, Shift Commander Bruce Payne, directed all available officers to the center of the carnage.

“Very quickly we realized the offender wasn’t in a position, he was moving around,” Detective Superintendent Morgan recalled.

“Unfortunately, by the time we brought most of our people to the area, we were getting calls that the offender was at another location.”

Despite having over twenty years of policing the Northern Territory under his belt, Detective Superintendent Morgan was thinking on his feet.

“There’s no playbook for that,” he said.

A map of Darwin highlighting 7 different places visited by Benjamin Hoffmann
The places visited by Benjamin Hoffmann during his June 4, 2019 shooting, in which four people died.(ABC News)

“It was pretty scary. It was nothing I had ever had to deal with before and I hope I never will again. At the forefront of your mind is ‘how are we going to solve this ‘How are we going to keep the community safe?’ “

About 10 minutes after the first report of gunshots, police learned that at least one person had died.

“There’s someone out there killing people”

Hassan Baydoun, 33, a taxi driver who lived at the Palms Motel, was on a break from work when he was shot by Hoffmann.

The exterior of a two story red brick building with blue balcony railings, seen through the trees.
Hassan Baydoun was killed at the Palms Motel.(ABC News: Hamish Harty)

“It’s changed the situation again, it’s changed the way you think,” Detective Superintendent Morgan said.

“It makes us realize very quickly that there is someone killing people and it is your responsibility to solve it.

“[I was] in a position where potentially I’m going to send my own people into a situation that they might not get out of, and that’s really hard to do,” he said.

Within an hour, Benjamin Hoffmann traveled to several different locations in the city, killing three other people.

A composite image of four men
(Clockwise from top left) Shooting victims Robert Courtney, Hassan Baydoun, Michael Sisois and Nigel Hellings.(Provided)

Nigel Hellings, 75, was shot and killed at his home in The Gardens.

Hoffmann’s former colleague, Michael Sisois, was shot dead in the parking lot of the Buff Club.

With police seconds behind him at this point, Hoffmann left downtown and killed Robert Courtney, in a bloody and frantic attack in the inner suburb of Woolner.

“The process where someone picks up the phone and calls the communications center and someone takes that information, puts it in the system and then shares it; you’re always a few minutes late,” the Detective Superintendent said. Morgan.

Hoffmann was later captured on CCTV within yards of Detective Superintendent Morgan and his team. However, the police had no idea until a few hours later.

Covered in blood and holding a shotgun, Hoffmann showed up at the gates of the police headquarters.

He has since maintained in court that he was attempting to turn himself in, and Detective Superintendent Morgan believes him, as minutes later the officer was on the phone with the killer himself.

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Play the video.  Duration: 38 seconds

Benjamin Hoffmann’s triple-0 call to the police.

Take a call from a killer

Hoffmann’s chaotic triple-0 call, made as he headed back to town, played out for the jury during his 2021 trial.

“Hey Ben, my name is Lee. How are you, man?”

“Man, where can I meet you? I’m f****d.”

Detective Superintendent Morgan had not heard the audio of the phone call until he was sitting in the witness box, testifying at Hoffmann’s murder trial.

“It was hard to listen to,” he said.

A man in a blue shirt and tie and holding files under his arm walking past the NT Supreme Court building.
Lee Morgan testified at Benjamin Hoffmann’s trial last year. (ABC News: Dane Hirst)

During the roll call, the officer was heard calmly encouraging the killer to surrender.

“The first thing [I was thinking] was to keep him on the phone because while he was talking to me he wasn’t killing anyone,” Detective Commissioner Morgan recalled.

“Ben was already panicked, he was in a heightened state, he was scared. I needed to calm him down and there was no way I could calm him down if I was panicked, nervous or aggressive on the phone.”

He said the goal was to keep Hoffmann on the phone until he was arrested.

Eventually, over the entire police radio network, Constable Michael Kent could be heard shooting Hoffmann at the main CBD intersection.

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Benjamin Hoffmann was arrested in the Darwin CBD on June 4, 2019.(Provided: NT Supreme Court)

“I will protect you with my life,” the officer assured Hoffmann, as he calmly led him out of the car.

The tactical police surged seconds later and the mass shooting was over.

“Four people died on my watch”

Three years after taking the triple-0 call, Detective Superintendent Morgan choked up recounting the decisions he made that night.

“A lot of people did a good job that night, the frontline members, the telephonists. I played my part but still four people died,” he said.

“It’s four families who had to bury loved ones…and knowing it happened on your watch is really hard to process and it was hard to listen to.”

Since Hoffmann’s murderous rampage – the biggest mass shooting the Northern Territory has seen in decades – the 49-year-old killer was eventually sentenced to life in prison, without the possibility of parole.

Detective Superintendent Lee Morgan was promoted and moved on to other roles.

But every year, in early June, he gets in touch with his colleague Bruce Payne, who was standing next to him when the first calls came in.

“Looking back, there are always things you could have done differently. Would it have made a difference? I don’t know. It was impossible to control. It’s something I often think about but it doesn’t there’s no easy answer,” he said.

“Once in a while, randomly, I’ll be driving or I’ll be at home and it’ll go through my head. You have to accept it for what it is. We did what we could. I think we probably saved other people from dying, or hopefully we did.

A man in a collared shirt and tie standing outside the Alice Springs Courthouse with a police sign behind him.
Detective Superintendent Lee Morgan played a key role in the arrest of Benjamin Glenn Hoffmann.(ABC News: Samantha Jonscher)

“It’s hard to think about it. But I was in the safety of an office, I had officers on the front line who were going to put their lives on the line. While I maybe…gave instructions , I was never in danger. So I often think about how these members deal with it and what they faced that night.”

If it happened again today

The Northern Territory coroner has yet to announce a coroner’s inquest into the shooting and it is unclear whether she will hold one.

NT Police have launched an independent review of the shooting, the final results of which have not been made public.

But at the Northern Territory Police Association’s annual conference in August 2019, Assistant Commissioner Michael Murphy said the force’s response times were “comparable to anywhere else in the world”.

“Our officers responded based on their knowledge, experience and training,” he said.

A significant change, Detective Superintendent Morgan noted following the shooting, was the introduction of a permanent intelligence officer to the communications center.

“I think it was about halfway [the shooting] someone somehow heard Ben Hoffmann’s name mentioned. At the time, the name meant nothing to me, I had never dealt with Ben before, and we weren’t in a position where we had a person who didn’t do anything that we could go and say, “go find out who Ben Hoffmann is” – everyone was busy,” he said.

“We now have an intelligence person embedded in the 24-hour call centre. If we had that person there at the time as soon as we got that name, someone could have looked it up. “

The families Hoffmann tore apart that night, and the surviving victims he left traumatized, will take his crimes with them forever.

For Detective Commissioner Morgan, June 4, 2019 is a work night he tries not to think too much about.

But when he does, it will now be knowing that Hoffmann will never walk the streets of Darwin again.