A gunman went on a rampage across two southern Alabama counties Tuesday, killing at least nine people and burning down his mother’s house before shooting himself to death, authorities said.
The victims included family members and apparent strangers, the Associated Press reported.
Police were investigating shootings in four locations in three communities near the Florida border, all of which were thought to be the work of a single gunman named Michael McLendon.
Investigators declined to comment on a motive for the shootings, in which at least four other people were injured, including a child.
The bloodshed began when McLendon burned down the house in Kinston where he lived with his mother, Lisa McLendon, said Coffee County Coroner Robert Preachers.
Officials saw Lisa McLendon’s body inside but couldn’t get into the still-burning structure to determine the cause of death or whether she was her son’s 10th victim.
McLendon then headed about 12 miles southeast to Samson, in Geneva County, where he shot and killed five people -- four adults and a child -- at a home, authorities said.
He killed one person each in two other homes, authorities said.
“He started in his mother’s house,” Preachers said. “Then he went to Samson and he killed his granny and granddaddy and aunt and uncle. He cleaned his family out.”
Police said McLendon also shot at a state trooper’s car, striking the vehicle seven times and wounding the trooper with broken glass.
Samson contractor Greg McCullough said he was pumping gas at a service station when the gunman opened fire, killing a woman and wounding McCullough in the shoulder.
“I first thought it was somebody playing,” he said. The gunman fired a rifle, which appeared to jam, but “went back to firing” and drove off.
“I’m just in awe that something like this could take place, that someone could do such a thing. It’s just shocking,” McCullough told the Associated Press.
McLendon also killed someone at a Samson supply store, authorities said.
Police pursued McLendon to Reliable Metal Products just north of Geneva, about a dozen miles southeast of Samson, where he fired an estimated 30 rounds from a semiautomatic weapon, authorities said. One bullet hit Geneva Police Chief Frankie Lindsey, who was saved by his bulletproof vest.
McLendon then went inside the plant and shot himself, authorities said.
The night security guard, whom The Times reached by telephone, remained shaken hours later. “It was frightening,” said the guard, who refused to give his name. ". . . It’s kind of a shaky thing when a man holds up his gun and shoots himself.”
Reliable Metal Products makes grills and vents for heating and air-conditioning systems, mainly for hotels. State Rep. Warren Beck, a Republican whose district includes Geneva, said McLendon had worked at Reliable Metal.
State Sen. Harri Anne Smith said some of those killed in Samson were sitting outside.
“He was just driving down the street shooting at people sitting on their porches,” she told the Associated Press.
Smith described Geneva County as small-town America, where news usually revolves around high school sports, and where people grow peanuts and cotton and raise chickens and cattle. In Samson, she said, there is no Hardee’s or McDonald’s, just a seed business and a couple of mom-and-pop shops.
“Our community is centered around family,” she told The Times. “So we’ll take care of the families. We’ll take care of their children.”
Local officials are “baffled,” she said. “There’s been no clue as to why this gentleman -- I shouldn’t say gentleman; I’ll say individual -- did this.”
John Rainey, an administrator at Wiregrass Medical Center in Geneva, told the Associated Press that a child was brought in with injuries, but was flown to another hospital. The staff had geared up to try to help survivors, but their hopes were dashed when reports of the deaths came in, Rainey said.
“It’s something you’d expect in Atlanta or your bigger cities, but in a little town it puts a lot of people in stress,” Rainey said. “Our nursing staff broke down in tears hearing what was going on and realizing they weren’t going to be able to help them.”