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Mass Shooting in Australia Leaves a Tiny Community in Shock and Grief

OSMINGTON, Australia — On the road to the property where seven people from the same family were killed on Friday in Australia’s worst mass shooting in decades, a small makeshift sign says, “Church open for prayer.”

In a community so small and tight-knit that some farms have just the first names of their owners painted on the driveway gates, it’s a small, silent reference to a trauma that the entire area is still struggling to grasp.

But there are other indications: the police vehicles blocking roads; and the community center in nearby Margaret River offering counseling with television news cameras clustering outside.

“This incident has shocked our local community to the core,” said Pam Townshend, president of Augusta-Margaret River Shire, the district that includes Osmington, where the shooting occurred. She added, “What happened will have a huge ripple effect.”

The Margaret River region is a tourism mecca known for its vineyards, its natural beauty and its laid-back, friendly attitude. Now a shadow hangs over the community as people struggle to come to terms with the deaths of three adults and four children in a murder-suicide on Friday morning.

The police say they believe that Peter Miles shot his wife, Cynda Miles, who was a prominent member of the community; their daughter Katrina Miles; and their four grandchildren before calling the police and then taking his own life.

“I love Australia. I have never felt unsafe in Australia before,” said Daytona Stanga, originally from Texas, who has lived in Australia for two years and Margaret River for several months.CreditGiovanni Torre for The New York Times

The police declined to speculate on a motive.

The Miles family lived together on a property on Osmington Road, Osmington, a quiet rural area 13 miles outside the town of Margaret River. Officers arrived on the scene early Friday morning to find the bodies with bullet wounds, and recovered three rifles from the scene — all licensed to Mr. Miles.

To the frustration of some Australians, the shooting quickly became part of the conversation about gun control in the United States, partly because Australia has long prided itself on passing strict gun-control laws after a mass shooting in Port Arthur, Tasmania, in 1996.

Until Friday, the country had suffered only one other mass shooting — generally defined by experts as a shooting that involves at least four victims in a singular event. But gun- control experts have been saying for years that Australia’s laws have slowly softened, and they said it was still far too common for Australians to have more than one weapon at home around children.

“Like all other jurisdictions across Australia, Western Australia’s gun laws have also been eroded as pro-gun lobby groups continue to place pressure on governments,” said Sam Lee, chairman of Gun Control Australia. “From a gun regulation perspective, this horrific shooting raises many concerns about access to firearms, particularly on rural properties.”

Here and in Margaret River, though, there was little interest in political debates. There was only grief and shock.

About a dozen people were gathered at a support center on Saturday afternoon, established by the local government to provide counseling to residents. Some sat outside in the sunshine, talking quietly with one another, while others spoke with professional counselors. Elsewhere in the town, local people seemed stunned, while tourists milled around — providing a stark contrast.

Adam Navarone, who recently moved to Margaret River, where he works at a small shop, said his younger cousin had played football with one of the young victims.

“One of our customers came in and told me there’d been a murder-suicide, a family of seven,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it — I thought, this is a small town; this kind of thing doesn’t happen here. More customers came through talking about it, and I was shocked.”

He said: “You know, Port Arthur happened two years before I was born — this is quite a shocking thing. It has been quite somber since; a few people I saw who knew the family were absolutely gutted.”

“I was in shock — I didn’t believe it,” said Daytona Stanga, who is originally from Texas but has lived in Australia for two years and Margaret River for several months.

“One of my colleagues was their neighbor. The mom was very well known in the community, and it has had an impact on quite a few people around town,” she said, referring to Cynda Miles. “The girl I work with used to babysit the kids. It will have a lasting impact here.”

“I love Australia,” Ms. Stanga added. “I have never felt unsafe in Australia before. The idea of something like this happening here has never even crossed my mind.”

Ms. Townshend, the local government president, said the Shire had encouraged anyone needing support to go to the Margaret River Community Center. “Coming together at this difficult time is extremely important,” she said.

The police, including officers from specialist forensic and homicide units from Perth, will be on the scene for “up to five days.”

Other members of the Miles family issued a statement on Saturday saying they were devastated and stunned and “still trying to understand how this could happen.”

“We respectfully ask that the community refrain from speculating on the circumstances surrounding this tragic incident. We thank the community for their support and ask that our privacy is respected as we grieve,” the statement concluded.

Source: NYT > World

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