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Gunman in a taxi kills 12 in Britain

Rampage leaves 25 wounded in rural Cumbria

Police forensic officers worked at the scene where a crashed car contained a dead shooting victim. Officials said cabdriver Derrick Bird took his own life after the rampage. Police forensic officers worked at the scene where a crashed car contained a dead shooting victim. Officials said cabdriver Derrick Bird took his own life after the rampage. (Martin Rickett/ Associated Press)
By Scott Heppell and Jill Lawless
Associated Press / June 3, 2010

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SEASCALE, England — A taxi driver drove his vehicle on a murderous route across a tranquil stretch of northwest England yesterday, methodically killing 12 people and wounding 25 others before turning the gun on himself, officials said.

The rampage in the county of Cumbria was Britain’s deadliest mass shooting since 1996, and it jolted a country where handguns are banned and multiple shootings rare.

The body of the suspected gunman, 52-year-old Derrick Bird, was found in woods near Boot, a hamlet popular with hikers and vacationers in England’s hilly, scenic Lake District. Police said two weapons were recovered from the scene.

Eight of the wounded were in the hospital, three of them in critical condition. Queen Elizabeth II, who rarely issues statements responding to the news, said she shared in “the grief and horror of the whole country’’ and passed on her sympathy to the families of the victims.

The shootings “shocked the people of Cumbria and around the country to the core,’’ Police Deputy Chief Constable Stuart Hyde said.

Police said it is too early to say what the killer’s motive was, or whether the shootings were random. Some reports said Bird had quarreled with fellow cab drivers the night before the killings.

Peter Leder, a taxi driver who knew Bird, said he had seen him Tuesday and didn’t notice anything that was obviously amiss. But he was struck by Bird’s departing words.

“When he left he said, ‘See you Peter, but I won’t see you again,’ ’’ Leder told Channel 4 News.

The first shootings were reported in the coastal town of Whitehaven, about 350 miles northwest of London. Witnesses said the dead there included two of Bird’s fellow cabbies.

Police warned residents to stay indoors as they tracked the gunman’s progress across the county. Witnesses described seeing the gunman driving around shooting from the window of his car.

Victims died in Seascale and Egremont, near Whitehaven, and in Gosforth, where a farmer’s son was shot dead in a field. Workers at the nearby Sellafield nuclear processing plant were ordered to stay inside while the gunman was on the loose.

Hyde said there were 30 separate crime scenes. Many bodies remained on the ground late yesterday, covered with sheets, awaiting the region’s small and overstretched force of forensic officers.

Barrie Walker, a doctor in Seascale who certified one of the deaths, told the BBC that victims had been shot in the face, apparently with a shotgun.

Lyn Edwards, 59, a youth worker in Seascale, said she saw a man who had been shot in his car.

“I could see a man screaming and I could see blood and there were two ladies helping him at the time,’’ she said.

Deadly shootings are rare in Britain, where gun ownership is tightly restricted. In recent years, there have been fewer than 100 gun homicides annually across the country.

Rules on gun ownership were tightened after two massacres in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1987, gun enthusiast Michael Ryan killed 16 people in the English town of Hungerford. In 1996, Thomas Hamilton killed 16 children and a teacher at a primary school in Dunblane, Scotland.

About 600,000 people in Britain legally own a shotgun, most of them farmers and hunters in rural areas. Witnesses described Bird as using a shotgun or a rifle.

Prime Minister David Cameron said the government will do everything it can to help the affected region.

“When lives and communities are suddenly shattered in this way, our thoughts should be with all those caught up in these tragic events, especially the families and friends of those killed or injured,’’ he told lawmakers in the House of Commons.

Sue Matthews, who works at A2B Taxis in Whitehaven, said Bird was self-employed, quiet, and lived alone.

“I would say he was fairly popular. I would see him once a week out and about. He was known as Birdy,’’ she said. “I can’t believe he would do that — he was a quiet little fellow.’’

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