Aaron Cockman has seen firsthand the emotional anguish Peter Miles had gone through in recent years. That is why he believes there was a twisted rationale going through the mind of his former father-in-law when he shot dead his family of seven, including Mr Cockman’s four children.
As police continued to piece together what drove Mr Miles to shoot dead his wife Cynda, daughter Katrina and children Taye, 13, Rylan, 12, Ayre, 10, and 8-year-old Kayden on their Osmington Road property near the West Australian holiday town of Margaret River, Mr Cockman staged an impromptu press conference, baring his soul to the media just 48 hours after his world was torn apart.
The grieving father was certain the 61-year-old murdered his family before taking his own life, and believed it was his own heartbreak over the plight of two of his children that culminated in the explosive act of violence.
The pain of two sons struck down
Mr Cockman said Mr Miles had struggled for years to recover from the shock after one of his sons took his own life.
He said when he recently learnt another of his sons was seriously ill with kidney problems, it tipped him over the edge.
“Peter has been just trying to hold it together for a long time,” Mr Cockman said.
“I thought, ‘There’s no way possible he could lose another son, he’ll kill himself’.
“But I thought, ‘No he won’t do that either because he’s so close to my kids that he would not leave the kids upset for the rest of their lives about it’.”
Mr Cockman said that through Mr Miles’s emotional turmoil, the slaying of his family may have emerged as a way to “fix” his pain.
“He’s thought this through, he’s not snapped,” he said.
“He’s just gone, ‘Right, I can’t kill myself, I can’t live any more, so this is it for me, but I need to take out everyone with me because that will fix the whole problem’.”
A methodical crime
In a candid address that came as a shock to police, Mr Cockman described in detail what he had been told by the investigating officers about how the mass shooting unfolded.
He said he had been told Mr Miles first shot his daughter and four grandchildren while they slept in their beds, in a shed that had been converted to a second house on the property.
He then turned the gun on his wife in the living room of their house, before placing a triple-0 call to police alerting them to his crimes.
When they arrived, Mr Miles’s body was also found dead from a gunshot wound.
Mr Cockman said he no longer felt angry, just incredibly sad for his four young children who would no longer have a chance to live out the hopes and dreams he held for them.
The struggle to return to normality
The last of the children’s bodies have now been removed from the crime scene and funeral plans are underway as the children of Margaret River return to school today.
Education Department Southwest Region director Neil Milligan said the coming weeks would be challenging for many local students.
“On Friday the Department of Education immediately provided specialist services to support students and staff at schools in Margaret River. This support will be in place again today and maintained for as long as required,” he said.
“Staff from the Department, including lead school psychologists, will be available to support parents and others in the community as they respond to this extremely challenging situation.”
As a team of specialist investigators in blue forensic suits continue their work on the Osmington Road property, the regular rhythm of rural life slowly, painfully begins to return.
“It is tragic but life has to go on,” neighbour Richard Dossor said.
Police Commissioner Chris Dawson revealed yesterday the local officers who first responded to the horrific crime scene on Friday morning were also back at work.
“The officer in charge and the other officer attending are on duty today,” he said.
“We will provide them with support, but they’re both going as well as can be expected and I’ve got full confidence in them.
“Communities such as Margaret River have seen trauma before and they will recover, but this will take some time.”
Those traumas include a 1996 rockfall on a beach at nearby Gracetown, which killed four children and five adults, raging bush fires, and several shark attacks in the region, the latest just last month.
Australian Medical Association president and West Australian local Michael Gannon said the trauma of this incident would no doubt be visited on every person in the town.
“Small rural communities are very tight-knit, this will have mental health consequences and I would encourage anyone who feels they need help to seek it from their GP,” Dr Gannon said.
“It’s a fabulous part of the state that most of us know reasonably well. They will bounce back, it’s a strong community, but at times like this it’s important it comes together, and it’s not a sign of weakness if you’re suffering mental health problems to seek help.
“Margaret River is one of the more famous parts of Western Australia, and it’s sad now outside our great state, and internationally, it will be associated with this tragedy.”
Member for Warren Blackwood Terry Redman said the horrific event had hit very close to home for many in his electorate.
“It’s the sort of stuff you read about in papers that happens somewhere else, not in our own community, and that’s going to take some time to get over,” he said.
“We try and get back to business as normal, the community will certainly be endeavouring to do that, and I guess as time goes on you talk a little less about it.
“But it doesn’t take away what will be a pretty significant issue in the history of the region and the history of Margaret River.”
A father left with nothing but questions
As the people of Margaret River rally together and try to move forward, Mr Cockman questions how he will manage to do the same.
Still very much in shock, he said the true loss of the his four young children was still yet to sink in.
“Hopefully as things get harder for me I can cope more and more because I’ll get stronger more and more.”