Seven members of a family, including a mother and her four young children, were killed in a mass shooting that rattled a small Australian community and marked the first such incident in the country in more than 20 years.
Authorities in Western Australia responded early Friday morning to a home in Osmington, a rural town nestled in the country’s southwest corner. Western Australia Police Commissioner Chris Dawson did not confirm reports that the incident was a murder-suicide, but he said that only six of the family members were victims of a homicide, and police don’t believe any other person was involved.
Peter Miles, 61, Cynda Miles, 58, their daughter, Katrina Miles, 35, and Katrina’s four children — Taye, 13, Rylan, 12, Ayre, 10, and Kayden, 8 — were all found dead with gunshot wounds, Dawson told reporters Saturday.
Police received an emergency call at 5:15 a.m. Friday. Dawson said a man had made the call from the family’s property, but he did not give more details.
“We know where the call was made from. We know whose phone it was made from. I’ve listened to the message. I’ve been briefed by the homicide officers. While we’ve come to some preliminary conclusions ... I’m not going to speculate as to the chronology,” Dawson told reporters, adding that examination of the crime scene would take several days.
Three guns — all registered to Peter Miles — were found at the house.
One of the deceased was found outside the house. Another, a woman, was found inside. The other five, a woman and the children, were found in a converted shed structure, Dawson said. Police initially said that two people were found outside.
The family was deeply connected in Osmington, a community of 135 people, and in the nearby town of Margaret River, one of Western Australia’s surfing hot spots.
Pam Townshend, Margaret River shire president, said the deaths shocked the community “to the core.”
“As a small and close-knit community, many people are likely to know or to be connected in some way to the deceased,” she said in a statement Friday. “What happened today will have a huge ripple effect across our community.”
The family members asked community members to not speculate on the circumstances of the deaths, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corp.
“We are devastated by this shocking event. We are stunned and still trying to understand how this could happen. ... We thank the community for their support and ask that our privacy is respected as we grieve,” the family said in a statement.
Dawson said police have talked to the children’s father.
“He’s understandably grieving, and we’re providing as much support as we can,” the ABC reported Dawson saying.
Felicity Haynes, a neighbor and family friend, told the ABC that the victims moved into the home about three years ago. Neighbors reported that the children were home-schooled there.
“They were good people. It’s not fair. It’s not fair,” she told 9 News Australia, explaining that she heard three gunshots, followed by two more, at about 4 a.m. Friday but did not think much about it.
The deadly incident was Australia’s worst mass shooting since the Port Arthur massacre in 1996, when a gunman opened fire in a cafe in Tasmania and then hunted down more victims in his vehicle, killing 35 and injuring many others.
As The Washington Post reported, soon after the 1996 incident, John Howard, who was elected as Australia’s prime minister that year, enacted strict gun control. Known as the 1996 National Firearms Agreement (NFA), the law banned the possession, manufacture and sale of all semiautomatic firearms and pump-action shotguns other than in “exceptional circumstances,” such as military and police use.
The NFA, one of the most stringent gun laws in the world, also mandated that applicants wait 28 days from the time they obtain a permit to the time they buy a weapon. Applicants are also required to undergo firearms training, and weapons and ammunition must be stored separately, according to the law.
In 2016, 20 years after the shooting in Tasmania, The Post’s Christopher Ingraham cited research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showing that Australia had not had a mass shooting since the changes and that suicide rates in the country had been on the decline.
He noted, however, that there were no significant changes in gun-related homicides in the country.
But a 2016 investigation by an Australian newspaper, the Age, found that gun-related crimes in Melbourne had doubled over the previous five years.
In an editorial last year, the Age said it respected citizens’ rights but that there are “some freedoms that have no place in a civilised society, and none more so than the carrying of illegal firearms.” The newspaper was applauding Australia’s National Firearms Amnesty, which gives people the opportunity to register or sell their firearms — “no questions asked.”
The newspaper also called for firearm prohibition orders that would “allow police to subject prohibited persons to warrantless searches and ban them from being in proximity to a gun.”
After Friday’s massacre, the premier of Western Australia, Mark McGowan, called the shooting “appalling, awful and terrible,” according to news.com.au.
“This is a very distressing day for Western Australia,” he said. “My thoughts are with the family and friends of the victims, and also with the first responders and investigators as they piece together this tragic set of circumstances.”