A gunman killed at least 12 people in a rampage through quiet towns in and around the scenic Lake District of northwest England on Wednesday in Britain's worst shooting spree for 14 years.
Terrified locals and walkers were told to stay indoors as 52-year-old taxi driver Derrick Bird opened fire on people in towns across the predominantly rural and sparsely populated county of Cumbria, one of Britain's top tourist destinations.
In addition to the 12 dead, 25 others were wounded, including three whose condition was said to be critical, in shootings in 30 separate locations.
After a huge manhunt, Bird's body was discovered in a secluded area in Boot, a remote hamlet in the Eskdale valley, an area popular with hillwalkers. Police said he was believed to have killed himself.
"This has shocked the people of Cumbria, and around the country, to the core," said Stuart Hyde, Assistant Chief Constable of Cumbria Police.
"We are still at a very early stage in our investigation and we are not able to really understand the motivation behind it or establish whether this was a premeditated or random attack."
Multiple shooting incidents are rare in Britain where there are strict gun controls.
In 1996, a gunman massacred 16 children and their teacher in the Scottish town of Dunblane, and a man shot dead 16 people in the southern English town of Hungerford in 1987.
The Dunblane killings led to new laws which banned civilian ownership of handguns and meant other weapons required a certificate from the police.
However, government figures showed there were certificates covering almost 1.37 million shotguns in March 2009. Police said they were investigating where Bird got the two weapons he used in the attacks and whether they were legally owned.
Taxi drivers dispute
The shootings began in the coastal town of Whitehaven where Bird worked.
"He had a dispute with a taxi driver yesterday morning which carried on into today. He absolutely lost the plot," Lorraine Rimmer, who works for a cab firm in the town, told Reuters. "He was a bit of a loner who hardly spoke to people."
As police chased Bird for three hours through sleepy towns and villages across the Cumbria, frightened locals were told to shelter indoors. The gunman eventually dumped his car and headed on foot through picturesque areas popular with walkers.
Landlord Sean King said officers had warned him that the gunman was heading towards his pub in Boot, which has a population of about 15. "It was very unnerving," King told Reuters, saying there had been a steady trail of hikers heading to his pub for shelter.
He said Bird's body was believed to have been found about 200 yards (metres) from his pub.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said the local communities would be shattered by the killings. "The government will do everything it possibly can to help the local community and those affected," he told parliament.
During the manhunt, the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant in Seascale said all the site gates had been closed, with staff told to remain at their posts. However it said its operations were unaffected.
ReutersLast Mod: 02 Haziran 2010, 20:51