Derrick Bird, 52, shot dead his twin brother and at least one colleague before driving through rural west Cumbria firing seemingly at random at people in towns, villages and on country roads and then killing himself.
Eleven people were injured, three critically, during the three-and-a-half hour shooting spree which paralysed the county as police, hunting him on the ground and by air, ordered a lockdown.
Cumbria police said they might never completely uncover the reason for what they described as the "most exceptional and challenging incident" the small force had ever dealt with. Last night, they were examining 30 crime scenes.
The alarm was raised in the harbour town of Whitehaven at 10.30am. By then, it is believed, Bird's twin brother, David, and the family solicitor, Kevin Commons, were already dead. It ended only when the gunman's body was found in a copse outside the hamlet of Boot at 1.40pm.
Two guns were recovered by police, a .22 rifle with a telescopic sight and a shotgun.
There were unconfirmed reports that Bird, from Rowrah, near Frizington, who was divorced with two sons and was newly a grandfather, had argued with colleagues on the taxi rank the previous night.
One friend, Peter Leder, told CNN Bird had said to him: "You won't see me again."
According to one woman in Whitehaven, Bird "shook them [his colleagues] by the hands one by one and said there's going to be a rampage in this town tomorrow and it's going to start with my mother ... They just laughed and didn't take him seriously."
Others spoke of a reported family row over the will of Bird's seriously ill mother, involving Commons. Commons's home was last night cordoned off by police, and letters from his law firm were visible on a windowsill of Bird's home.
It is thought that after killing his brother and Commons, Bird headed to Whitehaven and shot a fellow taxi driver named locally as Darren Rewcastle. Witnesses said Bird then drove through the town with a gun hanging out of his car window. Police released a map showing Bird's progress south to Egremont, Gosforth and Seascale, where the killings continued.
One witness, Barrie Moss, said he was cycling through Egremont when he came face to face with the killer, who had just got out of his car. Bird, carrying "this absolutely huge sniper rifle", stared at him before driving away, Moss said. He then saw that an older woman carrying bags of shopping had been shot. Moss described how he and another man cradled the woman as she died: "He must have seen her, stopped, got out and shot her point blank in the back of the head. I don't think anybody could have done anything."
Further south, in Seascale, another witness, John Reeves, said he was loading his car when he heard two gunshots and ran out of his house. "As I turned the corner there was this poor chap on a bike and he had been shot, he was turned to the wall and this car had sped off. A few of us tried to help this poor man, but he was gone."
A police lockdown of the area as the shootings progressed saw shops, offices and even the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant close their doors. Helicopters and armed officers from other police forces were brought in to help in the hunt. Cumbria's deputy chief constable, Stuart Hyde, said police had yet to establish whether it was a premeditated or random attack. "This has shocked the people of Cumbria and around the country to the core," he said.
It was a "terrifying and horrific incident", he said. "Our thoughts go out to all the family and friends and colleagues of those killed or injured in this tragedy."
The Queen said she was "deeply shocked by the appalling news" and expressed sympathy to those affected.
David Cameron pledged to assist communities "shattered" by the killings. "The government will do everything it possibly can to help the local community and those affected," he told MPs.
The home secretary, Theresa May, said the events were "very serious and tragic". "Our thoughts are with the families and friends of the victims of these shootings. "It's a terrible incident that has taken place in Cumbria today, but I would like to pay tribute to the way in which the police and emergency services have worked very closely together to deal with this incident. It is the third tragedy to hit west Cumbria in six months, following the devastating floods last year and the deaths of three people, including two schoolchildren, in a coach crash on the A66 last week."
Many among the injured were taken to West Cumberland hospital in Whitehaven, where a major incident was declared and routine operations cancelled, and to hospitals in Carlisle and Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
Bird's spree is the biggest mass shooting since Thomas Hamilton killed 16 children and an adult at Dunblane primary school in March 1996, before killing himself.
The area's MP, Jamie Reed, said: "Things like this don't happen around here." Visibly shaken, he added: "What is happening is completely beyond our experience."
Share your thoughts on this tragic event
[Edited by captainkirk, 6/4/2010 4:40:40 AM]
Plus the families that were affected, they must be devastated. Their loved ones were attacked for no good reason.
You don't want to know what is really lunacy of the highest order. Some of the stuff I read in a book about serial killers once would make you want to throw up.
As for this shooting, it's so senseless. I hate it when people who don't value their own lives take so many innocent people along with them. If there is a hell there's a special corner of it for people like this bastard.
As for the cause, the argument was only the trigger. People like this generally have many things going wrong in their lives and minds. Anything can push them over the edge, totally insignificant to everyone else but it reminds them of something traumatic in their past and they snap.