Another police officer was injured, while a fourth feared she would be burned alive, police said.
Queensland Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll said Tuesday during a news conference that many questions remain about the incident, including what motivated the suspects and that an investigation is ongoing. It will likely take “days, if not weeks” to explain what happened, she said.
In the meantime, the incident has shaken Australia, a country whose experience of gun violence spurred it to adopt stricter gun laws in the late 1990s. Research indicates that Australia has had fewer gun deaths after these laws were passed. Shootings resulting in multiple deaths, especially involving law enforcement, are rare.
“All Australians are shocked and saddened by this tragic loss of life,” Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said tuesday “This is not a price anyone who puts on a uniform should have to pay.”
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Police say the incident began around 4:30 pm local time when four police officers were dispatched to a property on Wains Road at Wieambilla to follow a request from New South Wales Police to check on a missing person.
The person, identified by authorities and Australian media as Nathaniel Train, 46, a former school principal in New South Wales, was reported missing a year earlier. He has been heard from sporadically, although contact has stopped in recent days, prompting the request from NSW Police, according to Carroll.
Train was one of three people inside the property, according to authorities. Australian news outlets reported that the other two were Train’s brother, Gareth Train, 47, and Gareth’s wife, Stacey Train, 45. All three people inside the property are suspected offenders in this case, Carroll said Tuesday during a news conference. .
When the officers arrived, they were “inundated with gunfire”, Queensland Police Union president Ian Leavers told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).
Two officers from the Tara Police Service – Matthew Arnold, 26, and Rachel McCrow, 29 – were shot and died at the scene. A neighbor, identified by authorities as Alan Dare, 58, was also shot and killed as he approached the property — driven, according to to Albanese, “because of the instinct to help.”
The age and relative inexperience of the officers on the force — Arnold was sworn in as a police officer in March 2020, while McCrow was sworn in in June 2021 — added to what officials described as the tragic nature of the events.
It is with heavy hearts that we confirm the deaths of Private Matthew Arnold and Private Rachel McCrow.
Their lives were tragically cut short in the line of duty at Wieambilla yesterday.
With Honor They Served. pic.twitter.com/XIahH0zGUX
– Queensland Police (@QldPolice) December 12, 2022
The other two officers at the scene – constables Randall Kirk, 28, and Keely Brough, 28, both of Chinchilla Police Station – survived. Kirk suffered a gunshot wound, while Brough managed to flee into nearby long grass, Leavers said. He told Australian media that the suspects burned the grass to try to force Brough into the open.
“She didn’t know if she was going to be shot or if she was going to be burned alive,” Leavers said.
After the surviving officers raised the alarm, 16 officers arrived at the scene, facing heavy gunfire, to retrieve the bodies of their colleagues, Leavers and Carroll said. Special forces fatally shot the suspects around 10:30 p.m. local time, police say, ending the siege.
Carrol described the incident as “the greatest loss of … police life that we’ve suffered in a single incident in many years,” as she fought back tears on Tuesday.
“Losing one of their own has a profound impact on every single officer and their families; to lose two officers in one incident is absolutely devastating,” she said.
“In my opinion, those officers had no chance. The fact that two came out alive is a miracle,” she added.
Over the coming weeks, law enforcement will comb through the lives and records of the suspects, looking for clues as to what may have motivated them to go on this deadly rampage.
One possible track relates to Gareth Train’s online life: According to the Guardian Australia, Train was a conspiracy theorist who believed the false claim that the 1996 Port Arthur massacre, when an Australian man killed 35 people with an assault rifle, prompted lawmakers to pass. stricter gun laws, was a “false-flag operation.” It’s not clear if Train’s beliefs played any role in the shooting, but Carroll said police would investigate those reports.
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On Tuesday, Australians laid flowers at police stations across Queensland as the nation mourned the loss of two young officers whose lives and careers, Carroll said, were just beginning.