SEVEN people from the same family, including four children, have been killed in Australia’s worst mass shooting in more than two decades.
The Australian newspaper reported that police are treating the incident as a murder-suicide.
Cynda and Peter Miles are believed to have died early yesterday at their farm in Osmington, near Margaret River in Western Australia.
Their daughter Katrina and her four children — Taye, 13, Rylan, 11, Arye, 10, and Kadyn Cockman, 8 — were also killed. Those five were found dead in a shed converted into living quarters on the farm, which the owners named Forever Dreaming.
Police discovered the bodies when called to the property just after 5am.
WA Police Commissioner Chris Dawson said the person who made the phone call was a man.
Police were last night working on the theory that the man who made that call was the killer and among the dead.
Two firearms were found by officers confronted by the appalling scene.
Within hours, police said they were not looking for anyone else in connection with the shootings. Mr Dawson said the incident was one of the worst the force would ever have to deal with.
“The loss of any life is tragic, but four children and three adults, this is a significant tragedy,” he said. “This devastating incident will no doubt have a lasting impact on the families concerned, the whole community, and in particular the communities in the southwest. These tragedies take their toll on everybody.”
WA Premier Mark McGowan described the multiple homicide as “appalling, awful and terrible”.
“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.”
Margaret River shire president Pamela Townshend said the family was well known locally and well liked. “This incident has shocked our community to the core,” she said.
“As a small and close-knit community, many people are likely to know or be connected in some way to the deceased.
“What happened today will have a huge ripple effect across our community. Coming together at this difficult time is extremely important,” she said.
Cynda and Peter Miles were well known in the Margaret River area — she for her extensive community involvement and he for his longstanding and successful farm maintenance business.
Katrina and her four children had been or were students at Margaret River Primary School. They had also been home schooled.
The four children were believed to have had autism.
Their father, Aaron Cockman, was a local carpenter and builder. It is understood he and Katrina had been involved an acrimonious split, which had led her and the children to move in with her parents on their 12ha property.
The Miles’s farm, which they bought in January 2015, boasted two residences and was sold at the time as a “piece of paradise” in a popular holiday destination.
But it will now become the scene of an intense forensic investigation, with police estimating that they could be there for five days.
Before yesterday, the most recent mass shooting in Australia involved the deaths of five people — Kim Hunt, 41, her children Fletcher, 10, Mia, 8, and Phoebe, 6, and Geoff Hunt, Kim’s husband and the children’s father. That incident on an NSW farm in late 2014 was ruled a murder-suicide.
Prior to that, it was the infamous 1996 Port Arthur massacre in Tasmania in which 35 people died.
Jan Walsh lives nearby and although she did not know the slain family she is saddened by the deaths.
“Because we’re a close-knit community, we’d all be there if we’re needed,” she said.
“You do respect people’s privacy, that’s why we live here, unless there’s a fire or someone’s hurt.”
Ms Walsh and her husband have lived in Osmington for 25 years, having moved from the Wheatbelt region, and they ran a bed and breakfast for years.
“There’s retired people who live down here, there’s ex-farmers,” she said.
“It’s just a wonderful place to live and everyone’s so friendly.
“You wave to everyone coming down Osmington Road and you don’t even know them. “It’s a very caring town.”
Ms Miles’ friends are shocked and upset by the deaths.
According to media reports, she home-schooled her three boys and her daughter at their farm.
She is described by friends as a devoted mother who “worked tirelessly to provide them with everything they needed”.
Police are trying to locate other family members and friends. They have not been able to notify next of kin yet.
Homicide detectives from the major crime squad are travelling to Margaret River from Perth.
It’s understood forensic specialists will also assist.
Commissioner Dawson acknowledged the impact the tragedy would have on the small regional town, well known as a surfing hotspot and a tourist destination for its wine industry.
“We well understand that these tragedies have a lasting impact,” he said.
“We’ll do as much as we can from a police investigation point of view but, importantly, communities rally together in such tragedies and I’m confident that the community will rally together but we’re also very well aware that there’s a lot of support services which we will be providing through various Government services.”
The events in our South West are tragic and shocking. 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.— Mark McGowan (@MarkMcGowanMP) May 11, 2018
Commissioner Dawson added that a police chaplain is involved to provide support for those involved.
He also said that police have no information to raise concern about a wider public safety issue surrounding the incident, which he described as a “devastating tragedy”.
“This devastating tragedy will no doubt have a lasting impact on the families concerned, the whole community and, in particular, the local communities in our south-west,” he said.
Federal Member for Forrest Nola Marino said the incident was incredibly saddening.
“The loss of life is always tragic, especially when young children are involved,” Ms Marino told News Corp.
“My thoughts are with the family and friends.”
Osmington is a tiny rural area about 20km outside Margaret River and three hours south of Perth.
About 7600 people live in Margaret River itself while ABS data shows Osmington has about 135 residents.
While this mass shooting tragedy is shocking, it is not the first Australia has seen.
In December 2014, eight children — aged between 18 months and 15 years — were stabbed to death in Cairns by Mersane Warria. The mother of seven of the children (the eighth was her niece) was later charged with their murder. She was later found unfit for trial.
Also in 2014, at Lockhart in New South Wales, farmer Geoff Hunt killed his wife and three children before turning the gun on himself. His struggling farm, combined with his wife being seriously injured in a car accident, is believed to have contributed to the incident.
In 1997, the poet Peter Shoobridge cut the throat of his four daughters as they slept. He then killed himself with a rifle. The 52-year-old antique dealer had a reputation for being a quiet, but wealthy, man. He left behind a series of notes, detailing his diagnosis with a degenerative disease.
Forever Dreaming was supposed to be the Miles family’s “piece of paradise”.
That was how the farm was billed when Cynda and Peter Miles snapped it up in 2015.
The pair planned for the tranquil property, about 20km from Margaret River, to be their “forever farm”.
But it turned to a scene of terrible tragedy yesterday as the site of Australia’s worst mass shooting in more than 20 years.
A Facebook page dedicated to Forever Dreaming — last updated in January — said it would be a base for growing food and Peter’s maintenance and repair business.
It would also be a playground for their grandchildren.
Four of the Miles’ grandchildren were killed in the shooting.
“It is here that we will grow as much of our food as we can, sit on the veranda and watch the birds, and watch the grandchildren immerse themselves in the animals and everything else that happens on a daily basis,” the Forever Dreaming Facebook page said.
“When we have too much we will share it if we can — it is in the giving that community is built!”
- with Monique Hore