Second ordeal for siege victim

''I’m not a hero’’: Sydney siege survivor Marcia Mikhael said she is ‘‘just a normal person who went through something horrible’’. ‘‘I did what I had to do to survive,’’ she said. Picture: Geoff Jones

''I’m not a hero’’: Sydney siege survivor Marcia Mikhael said she is ‘‘just a normal person who went through something horrible’’. ‘‘I did what I had to do to survive,’’ she said. Picture: Geoff Jones

Three months after the tragedy that changed her life, survivor of the Lindt Cafe siege, Marcia Mikhael, opens up in an exclusive interview about the aftermath. She talks candidly to FLORA CAUCHI about being thrust into the public eye, her fears and recovery.

Shortly after Marcia Mikhael was carried out of the Lindt cafe in Martin Place on December 15, she has suffered cyber-bullying and fought suicidal thoughts.

But now she wants to use the strength that helped her survive ‘‘17 hours of terror’’ for a new life purpose.

Being held under duress by gunman Man Horan Monis with 15 other hostages for 17 hours left the mother of three with physical and psychological injuries.

‘‘I have nightmares and flashbacks,’’ Mrs Mikhael, of Glenwood, said.

‘‘I don’t trust people any more.

‘‘I’m terrified of being in public and everywhere I go I’m looking around for danger.

‘‘I’ve had two surgeries in each leg and had over 200 small pieces of shrapnel removed and I still require at least one more surgery in each leg.’’

Mrs Mikhael, 43, said vilification on social media and what she says was a misrepresentation on some media outlets had made her contemplate suicide.

‘‘I went from being a victim and a hero to a villain, police basher,’’ Mrs Mikhael said.

‘‘Right after the siege I was seen as a hero; a strong woman ... someone who coped extremely well inside,’’ she said.

‘‘I was his voice. I was making most of the phone calls.’’

That all changed when an article published on January 15 printed what she said was an incorrect statement made by a solicitor on her behalf saying she demanded a six-figure sum for an interview.

As a result, she was a target of cyber bullying, abusive phone calls and criticism from the public.

‘‘I went from being a victim and a hero to a villain, police basher,’’ Mrs Mikhael said.

‘‘When all the bullying started I actually thought about killing myself.

‘‘I felt lost. Helpless.

‘‘The truth is I didn’t demand anything. 

‘‘Every single one of the hostages received a payout from either Channel 7 or 9.

‘‘So why am I the only greedy monster?’’

Also during the Channel 7 interview Mrs Mikhael said the NSW Police operation could have been more ‘‘proactive, rather than reactive’’.

‘‘But I actually also thanked every single police officer who assisted, especially those who stormed the cafe risking their lives to get us out,’’ she said.

"Yes, I made a comment [at the end] about maybe the army could have been a better choice to handle the situation. That was taken out of context"

‘‘And yes, I made a comment [at the end] about maybe the army could have been a better choice to handle the situation.

‘‘That was taken out of context and it was all everyone talked about for the next few days.’’

But now Mrs Mikhael wants to turn what she called a horrible ordeal into something positive.

Although she did not disclose the amount, Mrs Mikhael revealed she chose to donate a portion of the payment received for her television interview as well as the full amount received from a magazine interview to Lifeline [to assist with the support of suicide prevention].

‘‘I want something good to come out of this,’’ she said.

‘‘Before the siege, before all the bullying, I couldn’t comprehend how someone could feel so low they would consider killing themselves.

‘‘And for someone as strong as I am to want to die ... that’s when I understood how people can get to that state.

‘‘Right now I’m going to focus on helping people who don’t have the means or the know-how to seek help.’’

Mrs Mikhael, who is a former natural bodybuilding world champion, has not yet resumed her project manager role with Westpac Bank.

She believes her path to recovery will be a slow one.

‘‘Getting out of the house became extremely difficult,’’ she said. ‘‘Not only did I have to endure the terror of having a gun pointed at my head, being shot at and watching people die next to me, I also had to endure the bad publicity and the haters.

‘‘I was scared people would recognise me and I was afraid of what people would think of me.

‘‘I have always been a good person ... and all of a sudden for me to be seen as this bad person, I just couldn’t handle it. I was devastated.’’

‘‘All of a sudden for me to be seen as this bad person, I just couldn’t handle it"

She says she is now forcing herself to get back into a routine.

‘‘But I do think there is still a long way to go.’’

The NSW Police declined to comment on whether the department was satisfied with the way the operation was carried out during the siege.

‘‘This matter is being investigated on behalf of the state coroner with his direct oversight and control,’’ a spokesman said.

‘‘The investigative team is in constant contact with the Coroner, who is the person who will have the ultimate say.’’

Suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians aged between 15 and 44.

Lifeline has a 24-hour crisis support line to assist in suicide prevention, drug and alcohol use, loneliness and matters relating to abuse and violence.

Details: http://lifeline.org.au.

Helpline: 13 11 14.

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