Aaron Cockman has endured more than most people could handle. His father-in-law, Peter Miles, had done the unthinkable: murdered his wife, his daughter, his four grandkids, before shooting himself. A tragedy in Western Australia – the tourist town of Margaret River – that became the worst mass shooting since Port Arthur.
Aaron spoke to Sunday Night just one month after the tragic event for one reason alone – to ensure other families are spared from his pain. He received no compensation for his interview.
“I still can’t believe that this is even happening… It’s like that split second when you wake up and you think, ‘Oh, it is real.’”
When Aaron and his wife Katrina first met, they immediately clicked. “We basically got engaged straight away and then got married, honeymoon, and basically she fell pregnant during the honeymoon and started having kids. We just wanted to have kids and live life and enjoy it.”
They would go on to have four children: Taye, Rylan, Ayre, and Kayden. Aaron was working as a builder, and Katrina was busy looking after four kids, so finances were tight. They moved in with Katrina’s parents, Peter and Cynda Miles, and everyone appeared happy.
Yet for a long time the Miles family had been highly unstable. Court cases against each other, destruction of property in retaliation, and also heartache – their son Shawn shot and killed himself in his early twenties, while another son Neil is gravely ill and currently waiting on a kidney transplant. Peter Miles was taking it badly.
Aaron, Katrina and the kids finally moved out to be on their own in 2010. Aaron was building their dream home, however they had borrowed money from Peter to finish it, and it wasn’t long before Peter wanted the money back.
The dispute dragged on, and Aaron and Katrina were also fighting. Eventually Katrina took the kids and returned to live with her parents, who, in 2014, bought their dream property – a hobby farm named Forever Dreaming. As the years went on, escalating financial troubles and a custody battle between Aaron and Katrina affected Peter’s depression.
Then, on the 11 May 2018, the farm quiet and still at 4am. Katrina and the kids were asleep, but in the farmhouse, Peter was awake. The 61-year-old grandfather made the short walk to the guesthouse and shot Katrina, Kayden, Taye, Rylan and Arye in their beds. Peter then walked back to the main farmhouse and killed Cinda, his wife of more than 40 years.
He then called the police at 5:15am, but by the time they arrived at the property, Peter had turned the gun on himself.
Although still struggling with his grief, Aaron has tried to rationalise Peter’s actions. “If you thought in your head that you cannot possibly live anymore, I want to kill myself, I want to kill myself, but I can’t, but I can’t because I don’t want the kids to suffer… The kids were so close to him, [close to] Peter and Cinda. [It] solves the problem. He solves his problem… How do I get rid of myself without everyone – all the kids – suffering?”
There’s one piece of the puzzle that’s never been seen before – the note left behind by Peter Miles. The handwriting is atrocious but the message is clear – “Ex-husband Aaron Cockman to have house content – signed Peter Miles.” By the time he wrote it, everyone else in the house was dead.
Aaron believes the long and costly court battle helped push Peter over the edge.
He wants quicker decisions and an easier way for court orders – like his – to be monitored and enforced.
“Out of this situation, if I can make things change so it’s better for the kids… It’s better for dads and mums,” Aaron told Sunday Night with tears in his eyes. “I’m going to put all my effort into that. I’ve got nothing else now.”
Aaron’s parents, Philip and Kim Cockman, have been keeping close watch over their son following the tragedy. His mother Kim revealed, “When he is on his own I do worry, but… we will always be watching him, we will always keep an eye on him in a way of saying, ‘We are always here.’”
If you or someone you know is struggling to cope, there are people who are ready to listen.
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Reporter: Denham Hitchcock
Producer: Rebecca Cox