Twelve people are now confirmed dead at the hands of a lone gunman in the northern English county of Cumbria. Derrick Bird, a taxi-driver in the town of Whitehaven, began his rampage at about 10.30 in the morning, killing two fellow taxi-drivers, and then moving through local towns, randomly shooting pereople.

In the early afternoon, he abandoned his vehicle near the village of Boot, and in the nearby woods eventually shot himself.

Twenty-five people are in hospital with gunshot wounds, three of them critical. Police said they were attending more than 30 separate crime scenes.

The massacre prompted a lockdown of most of western Cumbria, with residents advised to stay in their houses, and the Sellafield nuclear plant closed down for several hours.

Bird, 52, was a divorced father of two adult sons, and had recently become a grandfather. Though he was said to be “quiet” by some, he did not fit the stereotypical picture of the mass killer, being seen as generally cheerful, and with a wide circle of friends.

Subsequent reports suggested that he had been provoked into the massacre by a dispute with his twin brother over the conditions in their dying mother’s will. Unconfirmed reports suggested that Bird had gunned down his brother and the brother’s solicitor before the two taxi-drivers were killed.

One unnamed friend of Bird’s, who had been drinking with him the night before, said that Bird’s parting words to him had been “goodbye, you won’t see me again”.

Later reports, all unconfirmed, suggested that Bird had been parading his weapons the night before, after a serious argument with colleagues at the taxi rank. It was also suggested that he had attempted to check himself into the mental health wing of a local hospital, but had been turned away.

The events prompted some calls for a review of the gun laws, even though the UK has some of the tightest gun laws in the Western world. Semi-automatic weapons and pistols were more or less banned after the Hungerford and Dunblane massacres of the ’80s and ’90s.

Bird appears to have been using two weapons — a shotgun and a smaller-bore hunting rifle with a telescopic sight. Several of the victims were shot at point-blank range, after Bird motioned them over to the car.

The slow pace of the massacre and the nature of the shootings suggested that further restrictions on gun ownership would not have made much difference.

That realisation has created a certain melancholy in much of the coverage, a simple realisation that no easy fix could have prevented the events.

That leaves the country with little to contemplate but the mystery of evil, and the horror of waste, as one by one, the lives of the victim emerge and take flesh.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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