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Seven of the eight children found dead in a Cairns home were siblings and the other was a family member, police believe.

The family members were of Torres Straight Island origin

The children – who have not been formally identified – were aged between 18 months and 15 years old. Several of the victims were stabbed, police have confirmed.

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A crime scene has been set up at a home in Murray Street in Manoora, a suburb about four kilometres from the CBD of the North Queensland city of Cairns.

Forensic investigators have spent the afternoon searching through the home, which is believed to be used for community housing.

Police were called to the property about 11.20am Friday, following reports of a woman with serious injuries.

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A 34-year-old woman who was the mother to seven of the victims is receiving treatment for serious injuries and is assisting police.

A second person is also in hospital, although their involvement in the incident and condition was unclear.

Cairns Detective Inspector Bruno Asnicar said on Friday afternoon that there were no formal suspects yet.

A 20-year-old brother of the seven dead siblings made the discovery in the house, AAP reported.

A cousin of the 34-year-old woman described the family and extended relatives as close-knit.

“We’re a big family and most of us are from the (Torres) Strait,” she said.

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“I just can’t believe it. We just found out (about) those poor babies.”

Inspector Asnicar said police would be speaking with anyone who had dealings with the family during the last two or three days.

“We don’t have any persons that are formally suspects at the moment. It is very early days,” he said.

He said police are interviewing a man who was possibly the first person on the scene.

While several of the children were stabbed, Inspector Asnicar was unable to say if that was how all the victims died.

“We’re being assisted by the coroner and local pathologist. But until the deceased are removed and the post mortems are carried out, there’s no way I could confirm that,” he said.

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Detectives will only move in to the house after forensic investigators have completed their sweep, with a crime scene likely to remain in place for several days.

A mobile police hub housing officers from the Cairns Criminal Investigation Branch, Child Protection and Investigation Unit, and Scenes of Crime and Scientific section is in place.

At least 10 police are also being sent from Brisbane to help local police.

“We have intelligence specialists, we have forensic specialists, we have homicide detectives…we have child trauma specialists…and any other staff we think that we need will be brought to the task,” Inspector Asnicar said.

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Earlier, he described the incident as “extremely distressing” but stressed that the 34-year-old woman was not in police custody while in hospital.

“As it stands at the moment, there’s no need for the public to be concerned about this other than that it’s a tragic, tragic event. The situation is well controlled at the moment,” he told reporters.

“There shouldn’t be any concerns for anyone else out of this environment and as we progress further we’ll be sharing the results of our investigation.

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“This is not a small job; we’re not taking this lightly at all. We don’t do that here in the Far North, This will be done to the nth degree and we will cover every angle before this is finished.”

Torres Strait Regional Council mayor Fred Gela told Sky News that the family do not want the victims publicly identified until every member of the family has been notified.

Cr Gela told the channel he was a personal relative of the family and they were well known right across the Torres Strait.

Sky News reported that Cr Gela asked the media to be respectful of customs surrounding the naming of deceased Torres Strait Islanders.

Flowers are being dropped off at the scene, while locals have planned a vigil at Cairns’ Munro Martin Park at 6pm.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott issued a statement on Friday afternoon, describing the incident as “an unspeakable crime”.

“All parents would feel a gut-wrenching sadness at what has happened,” he said.

“These are trying days for our country. Tonight, there will be tears and prayers for these children.”

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Queensland Premier Campbell Newman said he was “saddened and shocked” by the tragedy, and that his thoughts were with the family and friends of the victims.

“I’m also aware of the impact this will have on the emergency service workers and police officers who responded to the scene, and I have asked the acting ministers to make sure those individuals are receiving the support they need,” he said.

“Indeed, the whole Cairns community and the people of Queensland will feel the effects of this tragedy, particularly at a time of year when families come together.”

“I ask that all Queenslanders reach out to those who may need support in coming days and do not hesitate to seek professional assistance if needed.”

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Queensland Opposition Leader Annastasia Palaszczuk said the deaths were “absolutely heartbreaking news”.

The Department of Communities is sending a team to Cairns to “deal with the human and social recovery”.

“It is similar to community recovery,” a spokeswoman said.

The spokeswoman could not confirm whether the family was known to the department.

– with Amy Remeikis and AAP

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