One of Australia’s worst mass killings, leaving eight children from the same family dead, has left the city of Cairns in shock.
The grim discovery of the bodies of children aged 18 months to 15 years was reportedly made by their adult brother at their home in Manoora, in the north Queensland city’s west.
The mother of seven of the children, 37, was being treated for stab wounds to the chest and was in a stable condition. Police said early on Saturday (local time) that she had been arrested for murder.
Police were called to the house, which is located around a clutch of low cost, publicly owned housing on Murray Street in Manoora, around 11.20 am on Friday.
Lisa Thaiday, who said she was the woman’s cousin, said it was a 20-year-old sibling who raised the alarm after finding his brothers and sister dead.
Friends and relatives of the children made their way to the house, some openly mourning in emotional scenes, others laying flowers, and one a teddy bear, just beyond the police cordon.
One family friend told Guardian Australia that the crime had left three fathers mourning their children. One of those men, who lost four children, was “a mess” and had taken refuge in the emotional support of his -parents and sister, the friend said.
A large crowd gathered for a candlelit vigil on Friday night in a park in the centre of Cairns.
The children’s family originally come from Erub island in the Torres Strait, just north of the Australian mainland.
Their uncle, pastor Michael Gela, said through tears that he had heard rumours of what happened in the Murray Street house but was no closer to the truth, Fairfax media reported.
“I’m trying to put my mind to it, but it’s unbelievable,” he said. “It’s a shocking time for a lot of Indigenous families and friends, but the gathering was good.”
The crime scene remained locked down with detectives, child protection officers and forensic experts working late in Friday night.
The street, normally teeming with neighbours socialising into the evening, was deserted, save a lone TV cameraman and forensic investigators behind forbidding police screens taking evidence.
Police have not publicly detailed the children’s manner of death but one source indicated to Guardian Australia that reports of stabbing were correct.
Asnicar said it was among the most serious incidents he had encountered in his career, saying the scene was “very distressing” for officers but they would be “missing nothing as far as conducting this investigation”.
It was the second high profile tragedy to strike the national psyche in days, with many across the country still reeling from a dramatic siege in Sydney which left three dead.
The Queensland premier, Campbell Newman, said he was “deeply saddened and shocked by the tragic events in Cairns today”.
“Indeed, the whole Cairns community and the people of Queensland will feel the effects of this tragedy, particularly at a time of year when families come together.
“My thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of those concerned.”
Newman said he was also concerned about the impact on emergency workers and police at the scene and directed ministers to “make sure those individuals are receiving the support they need”.
Tony Abbott said the incident in Cairns was “heartbreaking” and an “unspeakable crime”.
“All parents would feel a gut-wrenching sadness at what has happened,” he said.
Abbott said these were “trying days for our country”.
“Tonight, there will be tears and prayers across our country for these children. My thoughts are with the Queensland police and all who have to respond to this terrible situation.”
Officers from the Cairns criminal investigation branch, the child protection and investigation unit and scenes of crime have set up a mobile facility at the scene.
A Murray Street resident, Stephen Lillingstone, told Guardian Australia the incident had occurred on a section of the street that was “a bit rowdy”.
“You get your flare-ups and everything,” he said.
Source: The Guardian