By ROD McGUIRK, Associated Press
CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — A family of seven including four children was found dead with gunshot wounds Friday at a rural property in southwest Australia in what could be the country’s worst mass shooting in 22 years, police and news media said.
The children died with their mother and grandparents. The three generations had moved in 2015 to Osmington, a village of fewer than 700 people near the tourist town of Margaret River, to grow fruit, media reported.
Police would not comment on the possibility of murder-suicide, but said they are not looking for a suspect.
After being alerted by a phone call before dawn, police found the bodies and two guns at the property, Western Australia state Police Commissioner Chris Dawson said. Police wouldn’t say who made the call.
The bodies of two adults were found outside a house and the others were found inside. They all resided at the property, he said.
Police said they have no information that would raise concerns about wider public safety, suggesting a shooter is not at large.
“Police are currently responding to what I can only describe as a horrific incident,” Dawson told reporters.
“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 southwest,” he added.
Police were attempting to make contact with the victims’ relatives, Dawson said. He declined to release the names or ages of the dead.
Philip Alpers, a Sydney University gun policy analyst, said the tragedy appeared to be the worst mass shooting in Australia since a lone gunman killed 35 people in Tasmania state in 1996, prompting the nation to introduce tough gun controls.
Australia’s gun laws are widely acclaimed as a success, with supporters including former U.S. President Barack Obama saying Australia has not had a single mass shooting since they were implemented.
The generally accepted definition of a mass shooting — four deaths excluding the shooter in a single event — has been met only once in Australia since then. In 2014, a farmer shot his wife and three children before killing himself.
Police have revealed few details about the recent killings, and it is not clear whether there was more than one shooter.
Farmers are allowed to own guns under Australian law because they have a legitimate need to use them to kill feral pests and predators or sick or injured livestock. But automatic and semi-automatic rifles and shotguns are banned from public ownership.
Osmington is a collection of a few streets, farms, vacation accommodations and vineyards supplying the premium winemaking district known as Margaret River.
Samantha Lee, chair of the Gun Control Australia lobby group, said rural areas were over-represented in Australian gun deaths, including suicides.
“Regional and rural areas are particularly vulnerable to these sorts of tragedies, because of the combination of isolation, sometimes mental or financial hardship and easy access to firearms,” Less said in a statement.
“Although the details of this tragedy are yet to come to light, Australia has a tragic history of higher rate of gun deaths in rural areas,” she added.