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8 people are killed in shooting near Appomattox

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By Fredrick Kunkle and Martin Weil
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, January 20, 2010

APPOMATTOX, VA. -- Eight people were fatally shot by a lone gunman Tuesday, according to Virginia State Police, in what a spokesman for Gov. Robert F. McDonnell called "a horrific tragedy."

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Authorities said they had a "possible suspect" surrounded late Tuesday night in woods near where the shootings occurred. Early in the search, at least four shots apparently fired by the suspect disabled a State Police helicopter as it flew overhead.

The shootings were thought to be the deadliest such incident in the region since 33 people were killed at Virginia Tech in 2007.

"The governor's thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families. He is closely monitoring the situation," the statement from McDonnell's office said.

In an interview Tuesday night, an Appomattox County official said that based on information from other county officials, he thought that the shootings centered on a domestic dispute.

Samuel E. Carter Jr., vice chairman of the Appomattox County Board of Supervisors, said he understood that a man had "shot and killed his wife and his son" during a dispute.

A male teenager was also apparently killed, Carter said. He said he did not know the teenager's connection to the family. Carter spoke before officials announced the number of deaths.

Carter said he was not aware of any history of trouble in the family.

He said he understood that those involved in the incident were "good citizens." He added that he did not know what caused the incident.

State Police identified the possible suspect as Christopher Speight, 39, of Appomattox County. No names were immediately available for the victims.

The fatalities were discovered after one of the eight victims was found on a rural road about noon by a sheriff's deputy who had been called to the scene, about 10 miles west of Appomattox Court House, the village where the Civil War ended.

The victim was taken to a hospital but died, authorities said.

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