One of Australia’s worst mass murders, 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 northQueensland city’s west.
The mother of seven of the children, 34, is being treated for stab wounds to the chest and police say she is “assisting with enquiries” but declined to confirm she was a suspect.
Detective Inspector Bruno Asnicar – who moved early to reassure the public that there were no concerns for anyone else’s safety – said it was “very, very early days but she’s in a stable condition”.
Police were called to the house, which is located around a clutch of low cost, publicly owned housing on Murray St 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.
The ABC reported that relatives of the children had made their way to the house, in turn speaking to police and breaking down in tears in “very confronting scenes”.
The crime scene remained locked down with detectives, child protection officers and forensic experts expected to work through Friday night.
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.
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”.
Prime minister 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.