The children were found dead in a basement in a pile of sand, police said .

It was supposed to be a safe, affordable home for Ontarians with nowhere else to go. But inside, it was horrifying — with the bodies of 12 children in the basement, a woman locked…

The children were found dead in a basement in a pile of sand, police said .

It was supposed to be a safe, affordable home for Ontarians with nowhere else to go. But inside, it was horrifying — with the bodies of 12 children in the basement, a woman locked in a room at the bottom, the windows open to the elements, no light or heat and no working locks.

“The windows weren’t on the hinges, they had locks on them,” says Chris Brown, who was renting a room at the home.

“I saw the children sitting in the basement in piles.”

As the horror unfolded, families — including 10-year olds, parents and small children — were left with no choice but to flee to relatives in Toronto or elsewhere — as families and the children could not be left alone in the home, police said Saturday.

As Toronto police investigators sifted through the house, they said they are trying to piece together what happened.

Officers believe that the children were killed around 6:20 a.m. Saturday, when there were reports of gunshots fired, and the girl who was found was dead on the floor. The bodies of three other children were found upstairs and one boy died after being rushed to hospital.

Family members described the children as small and blond with “a good heart” and described one as a “beautiful child.”

“Our condolences go out to the parents and the families involved in this tragedy,” Mayor John Tory said in a statement Saturday.

Police said a man, who is believed to be the father of the five children found upstairs, was shot after he tried to get the family out of the home; the man ran down a driveway with his hands in the air and was found dead of a gunshot wound.

Other children were rescued from the home by other parents.

Police Chief Mark Saunders said the investigation will be reviewed by the coroner’s office to determine if the children died of neglect or abuse. If that is the case, the victims could be compensated for their loss, Saunders said.

The family has since moved out of the home and “we are receiving support and counselling,” he

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