Police track gunman in the killing of eight at home in rural central Virginia

APPOMATTOX, Va. — Police were looking for a lone shooter who they said killed eight people Tuesday in central Virginia, then fled in the woods, violently resisting efforts to take him in and even nearly shooting down a police helicopter as it hovered over the area trying to flush him out.

State police said officers had the suspect, Christopher Speight, 39, circled in the woods late Tuesday near the home where seven bodies were found and they believed he was still alive. An eighth victim was found barely alive on the side of the road — which led to police being called — and died on the way to the hospital.

All the victims were adults and both men and women were killed, state police Sgt. Thomas Molnar said. Three of the bodies were found inside the home, and four just outside it, Molnar said.

Police refused to speculate on a motive and would not say what type of weapon was used. Molnar also gave no background on the suspect.

The drama paralyzed the rural area as police swarmed forests trying to catch the suspect who fired at a state police helicopter, forcing it to land with a ruptured fuel tank, police said. No police were injured after one or more rounds struck the helicopter.

Canine units and a National Guard helicopter with thermal imaging equipment were being used to search the woods.

The violence was discovered shortly after noon when the injured man was found on a rural road. A deputy who went to investigate fled after he heard gunshots, police spokeswoman Corrine Geller said.

"When the deputy arrived on the scene, that's when he heard several shots," Molnar said.

Police did not release the victims' names or the suspect's possible relationship to them.

Authorities told nearby residents to stay inside and a small Christian school was locked down until state police could escort about 60 children from the building.

Resident Bethel Hawkins said police warned families to lock their doors in an area with many senior citizens. "We're just being cautious, keeping our doors locked, not going outside," said Hawkins, who lives about 2 miles up the road from where the shootings occurred.

Appomattox is in a county of about 15,000 approximately 100 miles southwest of Richmond. It is best known as the place where Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant to end the Civil War.

Police track gunman in the killing of eight at home in rural central Virginia 01/19/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 19, 2010 11:49pm]

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