SEASCALE, England – A taxi driver drove his vehicle on a shooting spree 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.
The shootings had “shocked the people of Cumbria and around the country to the core,” Police Deputy Chief Constable Stuart Hyde said.
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, about 350 miles (560 kilometers) 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 sonwas 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 Wednesday, covered with sheets, awaiting the region’s small and overstretched force of forensic officers.
Police would not discuss the identity of those killed, but local reports said Bird killed a 66-year-old woman near her home and a retired man who was out cycling.
A spokesman for the local health authority denied reports that Bird had tried to seek medical assistance Tuesday and said he was not known to their mental health services.
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 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.
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 would do everything it could 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.
Local lawmaker Jamie Reed said people in the quiet area were in shock.
“This kind of thing doesn’t happen in our part of the world,” he told the BBC. “We have got one of the lowest, if not the lowest, crime rates in the country.”
Glenda Pears, who runs L&G Taxis in Whitehaven, said one of the victims was another taxi driver who was a friend of Bird’s.
“They used to stand together having a (laugh) on the rank,” she said. “He was friends with everybody and used to stand and joke on Duke Street.”
Sue Matthews, who works at A2B Taxis in Whitehaven, said Bird was self-employed, quiet and lived alone. Some reports said he was divorced and the father of two sons.
“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.”
Emergency services were still working late Wednesday to identify all the dead and inform their families.
Rod Davies, landlord of Gosforth Hall Inn near one of the crime scenes, said residents were “used to ‘neighbor’s cat missing’ stories making the news — not this sort of thing.
“There’s a lot of fear. A lot of people are expecting to hear names of people they know.”
Jill Lawless reported from London. Associated Press Writer Andrew Khouri also contributed to this report.