HEARTBROKEN brothers say their family has been left “numb” after four relatives were gunned down in a New Year’s Day massacre.
Gunman Michael Atherton was a firearms enthusiast who was allowed to own six guns despite having his licence reviewed in 2008 after he threatened to harm himself.
The body of the 42-year-old taxi driver, who was said to be depressed, was found near those of three women in the downstairs of his small semi-detached house in Greenside Avenue, Horden.
All had suffered shotgun wounds and Mr Atherton had a long-barrelled weapon at his side. Police say they believe Mr Atherton carried out the three killings before turning the gun on himself.
The bloodied bodies of his partner Susan McGoldrick, 47, her sister Alison Turnbull, 44, and Mrs Turnbull’s 24-year-old daughter Tanya Turnbull were found in the house by firearms officers after police received several hysterical calls just before midnight on Sunday.
Mrs McGoldrick’s daughter Laura, 19, was among three survivors. She had jumped out of an upstairs window after being shot and frantically banged on a neighbour’s door to get help.
The performing arts student was taken to the University Hospital of North Tees, in Stockton, with pellets in her wrist and shoulder but was allowed home yesterday morning.
Bobby and Norman Hardman say their family has been left devastated by the deaths.
Bobby, who lives in Blackhall, where the Turnbull’s also lived, said: “It’s just devastating, the whole family is numb from head to toe.
“We’ve lost three family members in one swoop and that’s all I can say really - it’s devastating.”
Norman Hardman, of Hesleden, said: “They are just two lovely sisters.
“They’d do anything for anybody and we’re just going to miss them.”
Mr Atherton, who worked for cab firm Phillips, and Aldi worker Mrs McGoldrick are said to have been together for about 19 years. They have a son together, 17-year-old Michael.
An independent investigation will take place into why Mr Atherton was allowed to own guns after Durham Constabulary made a voluntary referral to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) as the force had “minor contact” with the family in the past.
Reports in 2008 said Mr Atherton, who is thought to have been a member of a gun club, had made threats to self-harm but was allowed to carry on owning weapons.
Assistant Chief Constable Michael Banks said he was licenced to own six weapons, three of them shotguns and a further three “section-one” firearms, a classification that is subject to tighter restrictions.
He said: “I can confirm that a resident at that address was the lawful holder of shotgun and firearms licences and we cannot confirm at this stage whether any of those weapons that were lawfully held have been used in this.”
He added: “We have had previous contact with the family. There was a report of a male at that address self-harming. That was some years ago. We are researching all of this. There were words. Nothing came from it.”
Steve Patterson, a family friend, said he had talked to Mr Atherton’s brother, Chris, only yesterday and depression came up in conversation.
Mr Patterson, 51, said: “Chris was saying that his brother wasn’t doing too well and had been suffering from depression.
“He said he was fed-up with the way his life was going.
“I think he started feeling down after an operation he had on his heart in 2011.”
A neighbour said: “Micky did have problems with his heart, around summer last year Sue was telling me that Micky had just come out of hospital after an operation.
“I don’t remember him being too down about it though, he always said hello and seemed like a happy go lucky sort of person to me.”
Lead investigator Detective Superintendent Paul Goundry said it was too early to say exactly what took place on the night but some of the family had been out at a “licensed premises” and the gunshots started soon after they returned.
He said he believes it was Mr Atherton who carried out the slayings “over literally a few seconds”.
Det Supt Goundry added: “My ultimate aim is to find out what the motive is and that’s why we are working very closely with the family and friends.”
He said there were no signs of a disturbance at the house and that one person initially arrested in connection with the shootings was later released without charge.
Anyone with information is being asked to contact Durham Constabulary on 101 or to ring Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.