On May 11, police arrived at a farm in Osmington, 20km east of Margaret River, WA, to find six members of a family, including four autistic children, murdered in a horrific act of violence that sent shock waves through the nation.
Police believe Peter Miles, 61, killed his wife, Cynda, 58, his daughter Katrina, 35, and her four children—daughter Taye, 13, and sons Rylan, 12, Arye, 10, and Kadyn, 8—before turning the gun on himself.
According to Janice Morris, who was a close friend of Cynda and Peter’s for 30 years, Peter had been suffering since the loss of a son to suicide 15 years ago.
“Peter had a breakdown,” Morris, 81, tells WHO. “He was having counselling and treatment for depression. Peter had just come to the thought that he was useless and he was in a bad place.”
Further, his son Neil, 31, had been suffering a life-threatening kidney ailment and is awaiting a transplant.
The grieving father of the slain children, Aaron Cockman, says Neil’s situation had hit the family hard.
“I thought, ‘If something happens to Neil, [Katrina] will not be able to lose another brother,’ ” said Cockman. “But I didn’t think about Peter.”
Even so, adds Morris, “why it went this far and got this bad, I don’t know.”
Nobody does. By all accounts, Peter, who had recently been looking for work as a handyman through website Gumtree, was a loving husband, father and grandfather, who was well-liked by the community.
When his daughter’s marriage broke down, Peter transformed the farm shed into a sanctuary for his four autistic grandchildren, who were being home-schooled by their mum.
According to Morris, eldest son Rylan also suffered a disorder that often left him in crippling pain.
“Peter built them an area for a school room on the property,” says Morris. “They all had their own bedrooms. He made a bathroom, so if Rylan got too bad, it could be used with wheelchair access. He built the most beautiful cubbyhouse for granddaughter Taye. You couldn’t find anyone better than Peter. He built them a little house.”
While police have not released details of how the killing unfolded nor officially named the suspect, Cockman has revealed his children died in their beds—including the youngest, Kadyn, who had still been sleeping with his mum and was found cuddled up alongside her.
“All the kids died peacefully,” says Cockman, a carpenter. “The [officer] that went through and saw the kids, he’s got kids himself, and he said, ‘Aaron, I’m telling you straight up, they looked all peaceful.’ ”
Three firearms registered to Peter were found on the property dubbed “Forever Dreaming Farm,” now the scene of Australia’s worst mass shooting since the Port Arthur massacre.
It is believed the gunman alerted police to the slaughter before turning the gun on himself.
For Morris, one nightly ritual sums up the man she adored, and who is now the focus of a multiple homicide investigation. Each night, Peter would go to Rylan and comfort him as he struggled to settle.
“Who do you know that would go down and cradle his autistic grandson in bed every night because he was in so much pain—and talk to him until he had gone to sleep?” she says.
“He was the most loving, gentle man you could meet. That’s why we can’t fathom what happened. It’s just such a shock.”
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This article originally appeared on WHO.