SYDNEY - The grandfather of seven children allegedly killed by their mother in the northern Australian city of Cairns made an impassioned plea Wednesday for families to cherish their loved ones.
Rod Willie, patriarch of the indigenous Australian family, faced the media for the first time since the mother of seven of the children and aunt to another, Raina Mersane Ina Thaiday, 37, was charged with eight counts of murder on Sunday.
The four boys and four girls, aged between two and 14 years, were found dead in Thaiday's home.
Police have not revealed how they died and said they were looking into various scenarios, including suffocation. They also said knives were found at the house.
"Children are the most vulnerable of our society whose innocent lives deserve the greatest of love and care," said Willie, surrounded by family members in a video statement. "Cherish them." No date has been set for funeral ceremonies, but Willie said the children would be laid to rest together in Cairns early in the New Year.
"Their lives were taken all too soon last week," he said.
"We are working carefully and respectfully as immediate families, extended families and as a community, through a sensitive and cultural process to ensure our loved ones are respectfully put to rest." Thaiday sustained injuries during the incident, reportedly self-inflicted stab wounds, that are not life-threatening. She remains under guard in hospital with her next court hearing scheduled for January 30.
The house where the tragedy unfolded is expected to be demolished and a permanent memorial instead built on the site.
Cairns is a northern tropical city with a population of more than 150,000 people and is popular with international tourists as a gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, one of Australia's biggest tourist sites.