British village chilled by killer in their midst

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Hours before the world had heard of British mass murderer Derrick Bird, the chilling plan for his deadly rampage was apparently hatched in a cramped house in tiny Rowrah.

Nestling in the moorland fells of western Cumberland, the hamlet is surrounded by the picturesque countryside that draws millions of visitors per year to the mountainous Lake District region of northwest England.

It was from Rowrah, a dot on the map, that Bird, known locally as a quiet, polite man, set out from his house in the early hours of Wednesday on his shooting spree that killed 12, making headlines worldwide.

Police confirmed Thursday that Bird's first two victims were his twin brother David, killed in his bed overnight, and the family's solicitor.

The 52-year-old's home, where the divorced father-of-two lived alone, is an ordinary, two-storey terraced house, three from the end of the row that lines the north side of Rowrah Road.

A solitary female police officer stood guard outside in the Friday sunshine. The house is three metres wide, with a plastic front door, single-glazed windows and a satellite dish.

Beyond the end of the small strip of houses, The Stork Hotel is where Bird used to drink.

He would have passed the pub as he started on his shooting spree, heading for the nearby village of Lamplugh, deeper into the upland fells, where his twin brother was killed in his bed.

Local reports suggest a family feud over money, combined with tax troubles, may have pushed the unremarkable Bird over the edge.

His ex-wife's house is also in the village. The white-painted home, much bigger than Bird's, is on the end of Moss Fold terrace.

It has colourful hanging baskets outside the front door. Bird's 28-year-old son Graeme and his wife made no comment to reporters Friday as they emerged from the back gate.

Their lives have been turned upside down by Wednesday's events, albeit in a different way from the friends and relatives of Bird's victims.

After shooting his twin brother David, Bird drove down to the bigger village of Frizington, driving up the quiet Yeathouse Road to Mowbray Farm, where he shot his family lawyer Kevin Commons.

Frizington shop manageress Iris Caruthers was walking her dogs up the remote lane at 5:30 am Wednesday when she saw old schoolmate Bird driving past.

"As he was going slowly past me I just said 'hiya, lad, are you all right?'" she told The Cumberland News local paper. "He never spoke back, just glared and carried on driving.

"I thought that being a taxi he was dropping somebody off at the farm. People say I am lucky to be alive."

Frizington residents are struggling to comprehend what happened.

The bishop of Carlisle instructed local Church of England churches to leave the doors open Friday to allow people to pray and reflect on the horror wrought on their close-knit communities.

Frizington's Saint Paul's Church is holding a prayer vigil Monday for people from the local parishes, "to pray for all those who have been affected by the shootings".

"Everyone will pull together and get through it but it's tragic. In the wider community here, everybody knows somebody affected," Anne-Marie Hodgson, who runs the church cafe, told AFP.

Another local, June Skelton, added: "Even if somebody's got money problems, why take innocent people, why not go out to the woods and top himself without ruining 12 families' lives?"

Within hours of leaving Frizington, ordinary man Bird shot himself dead in a woodland. By that time, his face was known across the world.

© 2010 AFP

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