2 police officers killed in shooting in Wieambilla, Australia

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Two police officers were killed in a shootout at a property in rural Australia after what initially seemed a routine follow-up to a missing persons report turned into an ambush and a protracted siege, Queensland Police said on Tuesday.

The shooting took place Monday afternoon in the Queensland township of Wieambilla, about 200 miles west of Brisbane. A bystander who reportedly tried to help was also killed. Three suspects, who police say were at the property with “considerable weapons,” were later shot dead by special forces dispatched to the scene.

Another police officer was injured while a fourth feared being burned alive, police said.

Queensland Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll said during a news conference on Tuesday that many questions remain about the incident, including the suspects’ motivations and that an investigation is ongoing. It will likely take “days if not weeks” to sort out what happened, she said.

Meanwhile, the incident has rocked Australia, a country whose experience of gun violence led it to enact stricter gun laws in the late 1990s. Research suggests that there have been fewer firearm fatalities in Australia since these laws were passed. Shootings with multiple fatalities, especially involving law enforcement, are rare.

“All Australians are shocked and saddened by this tragic loss of life,” said Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said Tuesday. “This is not a price anyone should pay for putting on a uniform.”

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Police say the incident began around 4:30pm local time when four police officers were dispatched to a property on Wains Road in Wieambilla to follow up a request from New South Wales Police to search for a missing person.

The person, identified by authorities and Australian media as Nathaniel Train, 46, a former New South Wales school principal, was reported missing a year earlier. He had been heard sporadically, although contact had been cut off in recent days, which Carroll said prompted the NSW Police enquiry.

According to authorities, Train was one of three people on the property. Australian news outlets reported the other two were Train’s brother Gareth Train, 47, and Gareth’s wife Stacey Train, 45. All three people on the property are suspected perpetrators in this case, Carroll said during a press conference on Tuesday.

When officers arrived, they were “deluged with gunfire,” Ian Leavers, the president of the Queensland Police Union, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

Two Tara Police Service officers — 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 dead as he approached the property – driven, according to for Albanese “out of an instinct to help”.

The officers’ age and relative inexperience on the force — Arnold was sworn in as a police officer in March 2020, while McCrow was sworn in in June 2021 — has contributed to what officials have described as the tragic nature of the events.

The other two officers at the scene – Officers Randall Kirk, 28, and Keely Brough, 28, both from the Chinchilla Police Station – survived. Kirk sustained a gunshot wound while Brough managed to flee into the nearby tall grass, Leavers said. He told Australian media that the suspects set the weed on fire to try to force Brough into the public eye.

“She didn’t know if she was going to be shot or burned alive,” Leavers said.

After the surviving officers raised the Alert, 16 officers arrived at the scene to recover the bodies of their colleagues, Leavers and Carroll said. Special forces shot the suspects dead around 10:30 p.m. local time, police said, ending the siege.

Carrol described the incident as “the greatest 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 officer and their families; Losing two officers in one incident is absolutely devastating,” she said.

“In my opinion, these officers had no chance. The fact that two got out alive is a miracle,” she added.

In the coming weeks, law enforcement will scour the suspects’ lives and records, looking for any clues as to what may have motivated their deadly killing spree.

One possible lead relates to Gareth Train’s online life: According to Guardian Australia, Train was a conspiracy theorist who believed the false claim that the 1996 Port Arthur massacre, when an Australian killed 35 people with an assault rifle, prompted lawmakers to do so to allow stricter gun laws, was a “false flag operation”. It’s not clear if Train’s beliefs played a role in the shooting, but Carroll said police will look into those reports.

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On Tuesday, Australians dropped 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.

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