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British gunman kills 12 people in rampage

SEASCALE, England — A taxi driver drove his vehicle on a shooting rampage across a tranquil stretch of northwest England on Wednesday, 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, with three of them in critical condition. In a sign of the scale of the tragedy, Queen Elizabeth II issued a message saying she was "deeply shocked" and shared in "the grief and horror of the whole country." She passed on her sympathy to the families of the victims.

Police said it was too early to say what the killer's motive was, or whether the shootings had been 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 the gunman 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.

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.

Police Deputy Chief Constable Stuart Hyde said there were 30 separate crime scenes. Many bodies remained on the ground late Wednesday, covered with sheets, awaiting the region's small and overstretched force of forensic officers.

Deadly shootings are rare in Britain, where gun ownership is tightly restricted. In recent years, there have been fewer than 100 gun murders 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.

British gunman kills 12 people in rampage 06/03/10 [Last modified: Thursday, June 3, 2010 12:28am]

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