Gunman kills 12 in rampage through British tourist hotspot

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A gunman killed at least 12 people in a deadly rampage through a popular tourist region in northwest England Wednesday, before apparently turning the gun on himself, police said.

Some 25 people were injured, three critically, when 52-year-old taxi driver Derrick Bird spent over three hours driving through the Lake District, reportedly shooting at people from his car window.

During the killing spree, police warned frightened local residents and tourists to stay indoors for their own protection. What is thought to be Bird's body was eventually found in woods, along with a gun, near the village of Boot.

Police are baffled as to why he launched the attacks, which shocked the rural community popular with hikers drawn to its spectacular mountain walks, plus fans of children's author Beatrix Potter.

"We can... confirm that from our current indications that 12 people have lost their lives, plus Derrick Bird (the gunman)," Deputy Chief Constable Stuart Hyde told reporters in the coastal town of Whitehaven.

Emergency services were attending around 30 different crime scenes and had recovered two guns, Hyde said.

"We are not able to understand at this stage the real motivation behind it or establish whether this was a premeditated or a random attack," he added, describing it as "probably the blackest day in our community's history."

People who knew Bird described him as a quiet man who lived alone and was nicknamed "Birdy."

"He was a very placid, very quiet man, kept himself to himself, so I do believe something pushed him over the edge," John Kane, a local resident who knew Bird, told the BBC.

A doctor, Barrie Walker, told of "blood flowing in the streets" as he attended to victims, while the local ambulance service said it received 51 emergency calls as the tragedy unfolded.

One resident, Gary Toomey, recounted how he found one victim bleeding on the doorstep of his home.

"I saw a car screeching off and a man saying 'help me'. He was bleeding heavily from the side of his face," he told local media.

"He said he dived out of the way of the shot, and the man in the car pointed the gun down and shot him again in the back from about six feet away as he lay on the floor."

Prime Minister David Cameron expressed his condolences in a statement at the start of his first weekly grilling in parliament since taking office, saying he was "alarmed and shocked" by the shootings.

"When lives and communities are suddenly shattered in this way, our thoughts should be with all those caught up with these tragic events," he added.

Britain has tight controls on gun ownership introduced after two previous mass shootings in recent years.

In 1987, 27-year-old Michael Ryan shot 14 people dead in the town of Hungerford in Berkshire, southern England.

And in 1996, 16 children aged five and six plus their teacher were shot dead in the gym of a primary school in Dunblane, central Scotland, by 43-year-old Thomas Hamilton.

Registration is now mandatory for shotguns and firearms, which must be kept in secure storage. Nearly 600,000 people in Britain legally own a shotgun, and just over 100,000 a firearm.

Handguns were banned in 1997, and semi-automatic and pump-action rifles are also outlawed.

The Lake District shooting spree came barely a week after another local tragedy, a bus crash involving children from a school in nearby Keswick in which three people including two teenagers died.

"We are still reeling from the disaster with the Keswick school bus," said priest John Bannister from St James Church in Whitehaven, calling it "an awful time" for the town.

"The majority of children on that bus were from here in Whitehaven and surrounding villages and to be faced with this in such a short time is truly dreadful," he said.

© 2010 AFP

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