SYDNEY - A rural Australian town was in shock Wednesday after a mother and her three children were found shot dead at a farmhouse in a "horrific scene", as police searched a nearby dam for the father.
Police found the bodies after being called to a property near the town of Lockhart about 535 kilometres (332 miles) southwest of Sydney on Tuesday afternoon.
They were named in local media as Kim Hunt, 44, her son Fletcher, 10, and daughters Mia, eight, and Phoebe, six.
The children's bodies were inside the house, while the mother was found dead on a path at the back of the homestead, police said.
Wagga Wagga Superintendent Bob Noble said the crime scene was "horrific", adding: "I don't think even the most hardened professional could remain unmoved by what's out there.
"It's certainly not something I've encountered anything similar to before, and I hope not to ever again." Noble said all four were believed to have died late Monday or early Tuesday of gunshot wounds, although police have not yet carried out a post-mortem. No weapon has been found.
The police chief added that a search was underway for the father, Geoff Hunt, 44, with divers scouring a dam "within sight of the homestead" after a car was found abandoned nearby.
"That is the focus of our investigation and our search today. But we are making no assumptions because we just don't want to rule anything in or out," he said.
Noble would not comment on reports that a suicide note was found at the property, but said the Hunt family was loved by the local community.
"It's going to send quite a shockwave through those communities and throughout the whole area," he said.
Lockhart mayor Peter Yates told regional newspaper The Daily Advertiser the deaths had "devastated the community".
"We're all saddened by it, of course... I know the family, they're a well-respected farming family and it's just so devastating." The mother, who worked as a clinical nurse educator at a local health service after a serious car accident in 2012, was described as a "bubbly, positive, caring and passionate nurse who was dedicated to patient care".
"Her death is a huge loss and she will be greatly missed by all of her colleagues and friends," the health service's chief executive Jill Ludford told reporters.