Monday night in Vienna was pleasantly warm.
It was also the last night before the implementation of a new national curfew due to a sharp increase in COVID-19 infections.
The streets were flooded with people trying to make the most of their last night of freedom, preparing for the lockdown ahead.
Restaurants were packed, bars full, and people hurried about trying to finish the last of their shopping.
Then at 8:03pm local time, the first gunshots rang out through the historic city centre.
At that time, I was getting ready to go out myself and passed off the distant cracks as fireworks.
It wasn’t until 20 minutes later when the fourth police car rushed by my window did I realise something was seriously wrong.
A group of radical Islamists had launched an attack in the city’s old town district, starting at a local synagogue, before dispersing throughout the area.
This would mark the beginning of a horrific, calculated terrorist attack on Vienna’s people.
Soon videos of the violent rampage began to flood social media — armed with assault rifles and dressed in white, the attacker cut down anyone he came across.
Hundreds of police and special forces units were dispatched, tasked with hunting down the fleeing terrorists.
Soon, the entire city centre had been cordoned off, trapping thousands of people in the district.
As the grim reality of what was unfolding set in, I grabbed my bulletproof vest, a sombre piece of equipment that I never could have imagined needing in Vienna.
Stepping out of my apartment felt like entering another world — sirens rang out from every direction, and the rumble of helicopters filled the night sky — a complete juxtaposition to the famously peaceful and quiet city.
The deep fear
I made my way down Mariahilferstrasse, Vienna’s main shopping street.
The normally packed road was virtually lifeless since residents had been told to stay inside and take shelter.
Those who had been in restaurants and bars when the attack began still sat at their tables, anxiously peering out the windows of these establishments now void of the usual music and chatter.
Having worked in war zones, I am no stranger to the fear associated with violence.
However, the prospect of being hunted, by an unknown enemy, in a seemingly empty city was gut-wrenching.
Every now and then someone would rush past, looking for a taxi, or somewhere to hide.
The fear and accusation on their faces felt just as frightening, if not more so than the threat of the gunmen themselves.
With so much uncertainty about the attackers, people naturally became wary of anyone else on the streets.
The deep fear in the eyes of those who I passed made me feel as if I were the one brandishing a gun.
Unmarked vans crisscrossed the city streets, shielding policemen behind their slightly ajar doors, their guns at the ready.
Special Weapons and Tactics teams soon arrived on the scene and began combing through smaller streets, investigating the hundreds of reported sightings. No-one was free from suspicion.
More than once, a handful of other reporters and I found ourselves looking down the barrel of a rifle as police shone a harsh light on us — and I don’t blame them.
Waking up to a different city
Just over 24 hours later, we know four people have been killed and 15 people injured in the attack, nine of whom are in critical condition.
How exactly the events of Monday night (local time) unfolded is not yet clear, but one of the terrorists died on the scene after being shot by police.
He has now been positively identified, with police disclosing he was 20 years old with a criminal history and was a supporter of radical Islam and Islamic State.
Only a few hours after the worst attack on the country in the past 30 years, the Austrian people have been plunged into a new lockdown.
With families and friends separated, the healing process for the Viennese people is seriously jeopardised.
According to the national mental health hotline service, the phone lines have been flooded since the attack.
Additional police and military forces have been dispatched throughout the country, and patrols of public places and points of critical infrastructure have been increased.
Austria’s neighbours have significantly increased border controls and many have offered further forces to assist Austrian security efforts.
Today, the Viennese people woke to a very different city.
The Vienna of yesterday, one defined by safety, peacefulness and trust, seems to be gone.
Helicopters circle above, armed police officers patrol public spaces, and radio channels tell stories of grief and pain.
Only four days after the attack in Nice, France, one cannot blame the Viennese for their concerning outlook.
People glance at each as they walk down the street, in a grim acknowledgment of this attack against our freedom and the values upon which this diverse city was built.