Six people, including two young police officers, were shot and killed at a property in rural Australia after officers who arrived to investigate reports of a missing person were ambushed, authorities said on Tuesday.
Police said the violence began about 4.45pm on Monday local time when four officers arrived at a remote property in the state of Queensland.
Police returned fire but two officers were critically injured and died at the scene, and a neighbour was also killed during the firefight, police said.
In that initial confrontation, a third officer was grazed by a bullet while the fourth escaped, Queensland Police commissioner Katarina Carroll said.
She said it was a miracle that two officers had survived and that one was able to raise the alarm.
“In my view, the officers didn’t stand a chance, and I don’t know how two got out alive,” Carroll said after visiting the scene. She said the officers were shot in an exposed area in front of the house.
Ian Leavers, the president of the Queensland Police Union, said the officers walked into a hail of gunshots. He said that as one officer took cover in long grass, the offenders lit a fire to try to coax her out.
“She actually believed that she was either going to be shot or she was going to be burned alive,” Mr Leavers told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
After the officer was able to raise the alarm, authorities said a siege situation then developed at the property, with specialised police officers and air support called in.
Ms Carroll said 16 officers risked their lives retrieving the bodies of the killed officers, not knowing at that point if their colleagues were dead or alive.
Just after 10.30pm, two men and a woman were killed in a second major confrontation with police, bringing the violence to an end, police said. Ms Carroll said all three of those killed were considered offenders.
The commissioner fought back tears as she spoke to media.
“It is an unimaginable tragedy,” Ms Carroll said. “This has been incredibly distressing and tragic for everyone, particularly family, officers involved, colleagues, the organisation and the community.”
She said it had been many years since there had been multiple police officers from the Queensland service killed during a single call out.
“To lose two officers in one incident is absolutely devastating,” she said.
Ms Carroll said local police had acted upon a request from authorities in the neighbouring state of New South Wales to check on a person who had been reported missing as long as 12 months ago, but who had been in contact with people until recent days.
She said the investigation was continuing and it was too early to say if police were lured to the property. She said the 58-year-old neighbour may have come over after seeing a fire at the property or hearing gunshots.
Mr Leavers said the killings amounted to an execution.
“What happened yesterday is two police officers were murdered in cold blood,” he told reporters.
Ms Carroll said the two killed officers were highly respected and much loved.
“They were both committed and courageous young people who had a passion for policing, and for serving their community,” Ms Carroll said. “Both under 30 years of age. Both had wonderful careers and lives ahead of them.”
“This is, indeed, a devastating day for everyone who loved these Australians, and our hearts go out to those in the grip of terrible grief,” he said.
“We know that this news has fallen hard on a close-knit and caring Queensland community, as well as, of course, the community to which all police officers belong.”
He said officers across the nation know the risks they face, yet do their duty.
“And today and every day I pay tribute to each and every one of the police officers who serve their local communities and who serve their nation,” Mr Albanese said.
“This is not a price that anyone who puts on the uniform should ever pay.”
An emergency declaration remained in place on Tuesday for the Wieambilla area and a crime scene had been established at the property.
The area is sparsely populated and has several large properties and coal seam gas fields.