Hours after eight children were found stabbed to death in a home in northeastern Australia, police officials said that the mother of seven of the children had been arrested in the killings.
Queensland Police Detective Inspector Bruno Asnicar said at a Saturday morning news conference that the 37-year-old woman was under guard at a hospital in Cairns. The woman was the aunt of the eighth stabbing victim, Asnicar said.
Several knives found in the home will be examined as potential weapons, and the mother was found in the home with stab wounds, the Associated Press reported. The children ranged in age from 18 months to 14 years, AP reported.
The causes of death will be determined after the completion of autopsies, which will begin Saturday, Asnicar said. “At this stage, we’re not looking for anybody else,” Asnicar said, adding that more persons of interest may develop as the investigation continues.
While the neighborhood does frequently get calls for police service, officials said the home where the incident occurred was not a problem house. “This is just an ordinary neighborhood,” Asnicar said Saturday. “A lot of good people, a lot of kids in the area, and this is just something that’s caught everybody by surprise. It’s just an absolutely tragic event.”
The children were found Friday in the home about 11:20 a.m. local time, officials said. Detectives were waiting for forensics technicians to complete their work inside the house before entering.
Shocked residents of the town kept vigil during the night as a steady stream of people brought flowers to the scene.
Bessie Mareko, a neighbor, told Australian Broadcasting that she saw the woman and a number of children at 2 a.m. cleaning the home and putting unwanted items on the street. “I’m really shocked. I just saw her this morning on the veranda with her kids,” she told the network.
The deaths were called one of the worst single-family killings in Australia. The news stunned the nation, which is still mourning two people killed this week in a hostage siege in Sydney carried out by Iranian-born gunman Man Haron Monis.
Asnicar told reporters late Friday that “as it stands at the moment, there’s no need for the public to be concerned about this other than the fact that it’s a tragic, tragic event. … The situation is well controlled at the moment.”
Cairns, once a mining town, is a popular destination for tourists exploring the Great Barrier Reef. Its population is about 200,000.
According to the Australian, the woman’s cousin Lisa Thaiday said that a 20-year-old relative discovered the bodies in the house. The tragedy came as a shock to the big, tight-knit family, the paper reported.
“We’re a big family and most of us are from the (Torres) Strait,” she told the Australian. “I just can’t believe it … those poor babies.”
ABC interviewed a man named Larry Woosup, who said he was a relative of the home’s occupants. “I’m desperate like everyone else to hear” what happened, he said, according to the ABC report. “We just had that thing down in Sydney there, and it’s the end of the year, and it’s a family thing, Christmas and New Year, and you get this sort of thing happening.”
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said in a statement that the events are “heartbreaking and all parents would feel a gut-wrench sadness at what has happened.”
“These are trying days for our country,” he added.
This post has been updated.