A man who shot himself after killing three women last night was a licensed holder of firearms, it emerged today.
The body of the man, named locally as taxi driver Michael Atherton, and those of the three women were found in close proximity downstairs in the semi-detached house in Greenside Avenue, Horden, Peterlee, after officers were alerted to shots being fired shortly before 11.45pm yesterday.
One of the dead women was named locally as Susan McGoldrick.
This morning at a press conference Assistant Chief Constable Michael Banks confirmed that a resident of the house held a firearms licence.
Police also confirmed that a teenage woman who suffered minor injuries escaped through an upstairs window, and there were other people in the house at the time who also survived, including a man who was initially arrested but later released without charge.
Detective Superintendent Paul Goundry said all the deceased were related.
He also revealed that police had had "minor contact" with the family in the past.
Mr Banks told the news conference a resident at the address was the "lawful holder" of shotgun and firearms licences.
He said these were for three shotguns and three "section one" firearms, a category of firearms requiring greater authorisation than a shotgun licence.
Police could not confirm at this stage whether any of those lawfully held weapons had been used in the shooting, he said.
"This is a tragic event. We have four people who died late last night and our thoughts and feelings are with their family and friends at this moment," he said.
"I would like to reassure our communities that the police are in control of this incident.
"At this moment, we are looking for no-one else in relation to this inquiry."
He said just before 11.45 last night a number of calls were received in the police control room that shots had been fired at Greenside Avenue, at Horden, Peterlee.
"Our information within those numerous messages was that several people had been shot," he said.
"The police were dispatched to the scene and shortly after midnight, as our officers entered the house, it was discovered that a man and three women were dead in the house," he said.
"It is our belief at this stage that they died of gunshot wounds."
He said the scene had been preserved and a major investigation was under way.
Mr Goundry said the four bodies had been found in "close proximity" to each other downstairs in the small, three-bedroom semi-detached house.
He said police were working closely with family and friends and a full forensic team was at the house seeking to establish exactly what had happened.
"At this stage we are not looking for anyone else," he said.
"It is very early stages in the investigation; my priority is to identify the individuals in the house and I am working very closely with friends and family to establish that."
Mr Goundry said there had been other people in the house who were now being interviewed.
He said there had been an initial arrest of a male at the house who has since been released with no further action.
He said this person was being treated as a significant witness.
Mr Banks said of the 40-year-old man found dead in the house: "We believe he may be a member of a gun club.
"We're still researching that."
The police said they encountered the family prior to this incident, back in 2008.
"We have had contact with the family. We are busy reviewing the exact circumstances around that. There was a report of a male at that address self-harming. That was some years ago. We are researching all of this," said Mr Banks.
"There were words. There was nothing came from that."
Neighbours spoke of their shock at the incident.
One woman, who did not want to be identified, said she was "devastated" by the news.
"I always called them Mike and Sue. I am devastated, totally devastated. Two nice people, I did not think anything like this could happen.
"We are all just shocked, just stunned. There are no other words to describe it. I cannot believe that four people died there.
"He (Atherton) was very nice, kind and considerate. We both shared the same drive with our cars and, if he saw you, he would open the gate.
"He was nice, so was she. I have just been taking my cards down and I had a Christmas card from them."
Robert Bailey, 72, a long-standing resident of Greenside Avenue, said there was shock following the news.
He said he knew the people involved by sight only - and they had appeared "normal, ordinary people".