Christopher Rowe was enjoying a holiday in Queensland, Australia, when he heard a mention on the TV news of murders in his hometown of Kapunda, 80km north of Adelaide, in the south of the country. He immediately logged onto Facebook to learn more.
"Can someone tell me what's going on? That's my parents' street," he wrote on the social networking site on Monday. "My family lives on that street and I can't get through to any of them."
Rowe (25) was initially told that his family was fine, but police later confirmed that his parents Andrew and Rose Rowe and his sister Chantelle (16) had been murdered.
All three victims suffered multiple stab wounds and police said that a trail of blood led from the house, indicating that the killer may have been injured in the struggle. They were this weekend searching for one or more killers and called for doctors or medical personnel who had been approached for assistance to report to them.
Family and friends rallied around Christopher in the small town of 3,000 inhabitants. A neighbour came forward to reveal that he heard screams and a woman calling for help on the night of the killings but did not call the police as he thought it was a domestic dispute.
"A woman said three times, 'Help! Help!' She sounded desperate to get away from someone," the man, who was not identified, said. "I heard a loud bang and then after that – about five or six seconds after – I heard a bloke yelling and screaming."
Superintendent Grant Moyle said police had not established a motive for the killings. He said detectives had spoken extensively with the family's surviving son, Christopher, who was able to provide information on the family's background, but there were still gaps in the victims' movements in the days before their deaths.
Moyle said police were also checking on comments and posts on various social networking sites, including Facebook, but conceded the large volume of information online was causing difficulties.
"We are examining all of those things and they do pose an interesting challenge for us. People are posting comments on those social networking sites virtually immediately after information is released. Some people do speculate and over-exaggerate... but we do follow down all of those inquiries. There are a number of rumours and innuendo flying around and some of the social networking sites don't assist us in that regard."
University of Wollongong clinical and forensic psychologist Dr Mitchell Byrne said the killer, or killers, are likely to have been enraged, mentally ill, or on drugs.
"Usually a few body stabs will do it, but if there's 30, 40 or 50 wounds, more inflicted after death, that tells you about the level of emotion or mental health," he said.
"If it's disorganised, it's usually someone with few social skills, a loner, who maybe feels inadequate. Their own appearance could be unkempt, their home haphazard.
"They are likely to attack individuals they know."
Dr Wayne Petherick, associate professor in criminology at Bond University with a speciality in criminal profiling, said a crime scene "could be related to specific victims, or the circumstances the offender's in". Petherick said most homicides were domestic, and the chances of a "random, knife-wielding maniac" were slim, but he added that drugs or alcohol could enhance emotions.
He said crystal methamphetamine use had led to more "unusual" crimes and was a "spanner in the works" when it came to assessing crime scenes. "People killing other people under meth do it viciously and brutally... [the crimes] don't make sense," he said.
The Rowe family have pleaded for information on the trio's vicious murder. Kylie Duffield, a niece of Andrew Rowe, who ran a carpet cleaning business, said she's baffled by the murders.
"I think everyone who knows them would say that they were happy, they were a normal family," she said.
Duffield's daughter Mikayla wiped away tears as she listened to her mother plead for information.
"We would like to ask members of the public if you know of anything, you've seen anything, heard anything, to please come forward," she said. She said Rowe would have turned to his large family if he was in trouble. That family – Andrew was one of nine and Rose one of three – was rallying around the surviving brother and son, Christopher.
"Our main focus is Christopher and trying to find answers for Christopher," Duffield said. "It's not going to replace them, it's not going to make things better in a short time but, hopefully, over time, we can pick up the pieces."
Meanwhile, Christopher visited the makeshift shrine to his family at the rear of their Harriet Street home on Friday.
He stayed a short time before retreating to his girlfriend's parents' farmhouse 2km away.
Police said Rowe was devastated by the murder of his father, mother and sister and had asked for privacy.
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