A taxi driver fatally shot at least 12 people and injured 25 while driving from one village to another in Britain’s coastal West Cumbria region, before apparently shooting himself, police said.
Authorities said the body of 52-year-old suspect Derrick Bird was found in a wooded area a few miles inland several hours after the shooting began in Whitehaven, but they did not describe any injuries. A shotgun was next to the body.
Deputy Chief Constable Stuart Hyde said late Wednesday that authorities were trying to determine whether the shootings were “a premeditated or a random attack.” They were investigating 30 crime scenes and had recovered two guns, he said. Police had not released the names of victims.
Kevin Clarkson, deputy chief executive of West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven, said three victims at West Cumberland were in critical condition and five others remained in serious condition. Others injured were taken to hospitals in Carlisle and Newcastle.
Local media reports described Bird, who lived in the village of Rowrah, as a self-employed taxi driver and a divorced father of two.
Michael Peugh, a taxi driver who told a local newspaper that he knew Bird, reportedly said three of the shooting victims were also taxi drivers.
“I didn’t think he was a bad man,” Peugh told the News & Star newspaper. “I would never have thought he was capable of something like this.”
The shootings apparently began about 10:30 a.m. after an alleged argument at a taxi stand in Whitehaven in Britain’s Lake District, a popular tourist area, according to police and media reports. Bird reportedly is believed to have fatally shot at least one of his colleagues, also said to be a friend.
He drove off in a Citroen Picasso and zigzagged through several villages, stopping to shoot people on his way.
Bird abandoned the Citroen for a second vehicle, which he then crashed and left by the roadside. Police warned people to stay indoors and keep away from windows. The local nuclear power station of Sellafield was temporarily locked down.
Sean King, landlord of the Boot Inn, told Sky News he sheltered people in his pub as police searched surrounding hills and woods, a favorite spot for hikers, with helicopters, dogs and armed response units.
The magnificent countryside of hills and lakes is a treasured area of England known for farming and open air tourism.
Whitehaven resident Barry McLeavy told the BBC he saw one bloodied victim, seemingly a taxi driver, run away from his taxi with a female passenger.
“You just don’t expect anything like this here, it’s such a quiet town,” he said.
Prime Minister David Cameron said he was “alarmed and shocked” at the events in Cumbria.
“When lives and communities are shattered in this way our thoughts should be with all those caught up in these events,” he said.
Jamie Reed, a member of parliament and a native of Whitehaven, told Sky News about the tight-knit communities of West Cumbria.
“It’s a place where people still leave their doors unlocked,” Reed said. “It’s a community where people trust each other, where if you hurt one of us, you hurt all of us.”
Queen Elizabeth II, in a statement from Buckingham Palace, said she passed on heartfelt sympathy to the families of those killed or injured.
“I share in the grief and horror of the whole country,” she said.
Stobart is a news assistant in The Times’ London Bureau.