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 underway. It will likely take “days, if not weeks” to clarify 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 suggests that Australia had fewer gun deaths after those laws were passed. Shootings resulting in multiple deaths, particularly 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 that anyone who puts on a uniform should ever pay.”
Police say the incident began around 4:30 p.m. local time, when four police officers were dispatched to a property on Wains Road at Wieambilla to follow up on 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 had been heard from sporadically, though contact had ceased 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,” Ian Leavers, the president of the Queensland Police Union, 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 when he approached the property — driven, according to Albanese, “by the instinct to help.”
The officers’ age and relative inexperience in the force — Arnold was sworn in as a police officer in March 2020, while McCrow was sworn in June 2021 — has added to what officials have described as the tragic nature of the events.
It is with a heavy heart we confirm the deaths of Constable Matthew Arnold and Constable Rachel McCrow.
Their lives were cut tragically short in the line of duty at Wieambilla yesterday.
With Honour 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 from Chinchilla Police Station — survived. Kirk sustained a gunshot injury, while Brough managed to flee into the nearby long grass, Leavers said. He told Australian media that the suspects lit the grass on fire to try to force Brough into the open.
“She did not know whether she was going to be shot or 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 their colleagues’ bodies, Leavers and Carroll said. Specialist forces fatally shot the suspects around 10:30 p.m. local time, police say, putting an end to the siege.
Carrol described the incident as “the largest loss of … police life we have 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 did not stand a chance. The fact that two got out alive is a miracle,” she added.
Over the coming weeks, law enforcement will comb the lives and records of the suspects, looking for clues about 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 Port Arthur massacre of 1996, when an Australian man killed 35 people with an assault rifle, prompting lawmakers to pass stricter gun laws, was a “false-flag operation.” It’s not clear whether Train’s beliefs played any part in the shooting, but Carroll said police would be looking into those reports.
On Tuesday, Australians dropped off flowers at police stations across Queensland, as the nation mourned the loss of two young officers whose lives and careers, Carroll said, were just getting started.