Picturesque Lake District shattered by shooting spree

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Bouquets of white, yellow and purple flowers lay propped Thursday against the railings of a taxi rank in this quiet English town, scarred forever by a three-hour shooting rampage.

A string of scenic villages were also left in shock by the massacre of 12 people in one of Britain's most popular tourist areas.

Derrick Bird, described by friends and colleagues as an ordinary man who enjoyed a night with friends at the pub, shot three of his fellow taxi drivers at the rank on Wednesday morning.

His gun hanging from the window of his Citroen car, he then drove through the hills of the Lake District, the picturesque area of northwest England popular with holidaymakers, killing acquaintances and complete strangers.

At least 12 people were dead when Bird ended his murderous spree three hours later, shooting himself in a thickly wooded area near the forest of Boot.

Any community would be rocked by a massacre on this scale, but in the close-knit area of West Cumbria where Bird caused mayhem there will hardly be anyone who does not know one of the victims.

The Reverend John Bannister, rector of Whitehaven, said the community had been left stunned.

"It has been such an appalling episode that is so out of character for West Cumbria," he said.

"The whole of West Cumbria is in a complete spirit of disbelief."

The 52-year-old gunman lived in Rowrah, one of the nondescript towns in the landscape of rolling hills dotted with sheep, dry stone walls and whitewashed pubs which, like on the day of carnage, were bathed in sunshine Thursday.

In Rowrah, and nearby Egremont, Wilton, Gosforth and Frizington, the only outsiders are tourists or workers from the nearby Sellafield nuclear power station and reprocessing plant.

Such was the panic on Wednesday that Sellafield was 'locked down' for a while in case the gunman tried to force his way into the plant.

The rural nature of the area is illustrated by the jobs of some of the reported victims -- Garry Purdham was a farmer's son, while another man, Isaac Dixon, was a part-time mole catcher who was gunned down on the edge of a field.

The area's member of parliament, Jamie Reed, said that while a huge "sense of grief" hung over the area on Thursday, its residents would pull together in adversity.

"It is an incredibly close-knit community, it is one of our great strengths. If you hurt one of us you hurt all of us, and that is the way we are, that is how we feel today," he told GMTV.

He added: "We will be doing everything we can now as a community, coming together to help the families of the victims, to help everyone that has been affected by this. That is our priority."

© 2010 AFP

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