Eight children were found stabbed to death in the north-eastern Australian city of Cairns on Friday, in the second tragedy to hit the country in a week and one of the worst mass murders in its recent history.
Police discovered the bodies of the children — aged between 18 months and 15 years old — after responding to a call on Friday morning. A 34-year-old woman, believed to be the mother of seven of the children, was found with chest wounds and rushed to hospital.
The bodies were discovered by another brother, aged 20, Lisa Thaiday, who identified herself as the mother's cousin, told the Guardian. All of the children were siblings, she said.
The street was sealed off on Friday as police investigated the killings, which came just days after an 18-hour siege in a Lindt cafe in Sydney left two hostages dead.
A Cairns Post reporter, Scott Forbes, told the ABC from the scene that over the police scanner he had heard officers "screaming for ambulances to arrive on the scene." He said police sounded disturbed by what they had found.
"Neighbours had all said they were a very respectful family," Forbes said. "The kids were well behaved and whatever interactions that they had with the family were all very amicable."
Speaking to Sky News at the scene, Thaiday said that nothing bad had happened at the house ahead of the killings. She added that they were part of a large extended family in the area, originally hailing from the Torres Strait off the northern tip of Queensland.
Manoora has a large population from Australia's Torres Strait and Aboriginal communities. Deb Bennet, head of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander programs with the Queensland chapter of Relationships Australia, told ABC local radio they were providing support to those affected by the tragedy.
"We're encouraging the members of the Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander community to hold onto your peace and hold onto the love of your families and reach out to one another."
In an afternoon press conference, Detective Inspector Bruno Asnicar said, "This is certainly a tragic and traumatic, event — so many people deceased in one place. It's right up there with one of the most serious things I've ever had to deal with."
He added that it was "very very early days, but (the mother is) in a stable condition." Asnicar also said that there were no concerns about anyone else's safety.
Australians, still in a state of grief and with flowers filling the scene of Monday's siege in Sydney, reacted with shock at the discovery in Cairns.
Queensland State 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."
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott also expressed his sympathies. In a statement, he called this news "heartbreaking."
"All parents would feel a gut-wrenching sadness at what has happened. This is an unspeakable crime."
Abbott added that "these are trying days for our country."
"Tonight," he said, "there will be tears and prayers across our country for these children."
The events in Cairns today are heartbreaking & all parents would feel a gut-wrenching sadness at what has happened.
— Tony Abbott (@TonyAbbottMHR)December 19, 2014
Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, released a statement saying, "this is just the saddest tragedy at the end of one of the toughest weeks for our nation."
"Go home, hug your children, call your parents - because life is too short and fragile," Shorten added.
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