LONDON, AUG. 19 -- At least 14 persons were killed and another 14 wounded when a man carrying an automatic rifle and a handgun went on a rampage this afternoon in the quiet country town of Hungerford.
The gunman, identified as Michael Ryan, 27, of Hungerford, shot himself to death early this evening, more than six hours after the violence began, after being surrounded by police marksmen. Reporters on the scene said police dragged his body out of a local schoolhouse with ropes, fearing that it might have been boobytrapped.
The killings were described as the worst such incident in modern British history. Ryan's mother was among the dead.
Police officials could suggest no motive for the shootings. Some residents, who had cowered behind walls and in doorways as Ryan walked down the town's main street shooting indiscriminately, told reporters he was married with four children, while others described him as a bachelor. Some said he was a former serviceman who was a gun collector and "fanatic."
Police located Ryan at the schoolhouse after several hours during which he played a cat-and-mouse game with police inside the town and its outskirts. Residents described officers scurrying from one side of Hungerford to another, as shots rang out at widely spaced intervals.
Police helicopters whirred overhead throughout the afternoon, warning residents to stay inside behind locked doors.
Although there has been a recent increase in crimes involving guns in Britain, shooting deaths are still relatively rare, and mass killings of the type that occurred in Hungerford today are virtually unheard of.
Most policemen still are unarmed, and those with special training are only issued guns for particular missions with senior approval.
According to latest government figures, more than 1 million guns are in circulation among Britain's population of 54 million, the vast majority of them shotguns.
To get a firearms certificate, a person must give police a "good reason" for possessing a weapon, prove there is no threat to public safety and that he is fit to be entrusted with a firearm.
The reason given for ownership of guns, such as hunting or membership in a gun club, is supposed to be checked before a certificate is given.
According to police reports pieced together immediately after the bloodbath, the rampage began just before 1 p.m., when Ryan killed an unidentified woman who was picnicking with her two small children in the woods outside of town. A policeman later said a 2-year-old boy and his 4-year-old sister were found wandering in the woods "shocked and distraught."
Ryan then reportedly drove to a nearby service station where he fired at a cashier who ducked behind the counter and was unharmed.
Police said he then went to his mother's house in Hungerford where he shot her and the family dog before setting the house on fire.
Witnesses said Ryan then began walking down the local "high street" in the center of town, located 60 miles west of London in largely rural Berkshire County, shooting indiscriminately and reloading his weapons from what was variously described as an ammunition belt around his chest, or a sleeve pocket full of bullets.
One witness, Barbara Morley, told reporters that "he was just strolling along the road, shooting at anything that moved."
Another local resident described the man as apparently calm, carrying a handgun in one hand and an automatic rifle slung over his shoulder. He said Ryan walked into a side street where he shot a man who was cowering in a delivery van.
When an ambulance quickly arrived on the scene, the ambulance driver and attendants were shot and wounded.
Carl Harries, a lance corporal in the British Army on home leave visiting his parents, broke down in tears as he described how he found a woman shot in the chest at the wheel of her car.
"She was making gurgling noises. I tried to help her but then a man said she was dead," he said.
A police officer and a taxi driver were also reported among the dead. An 84-year-old man was killed as he worked in his garden. Of the wounded taken to a local hospital, seven were reported in serious condition. One was a girl of 10.
Total casualty figures were uncertain, as bodies continued to be found scattered around the town this evening.
One witness, Amanda Grace, 14, said she was babysitting in a neighbor's house, watching a soap opera on television, when she heard shots.
"I heard the boom-boom-boom sound from outside," she said.
"I look out, and he was right there in front of me. He was wearing all-khaki clothes, and he was carrying a gun right in front of him, which he kept firing all over the place. He had some sort of headband around his forehead. I couldn't understand at first what was happening. Then I realized what he was doing. He was crazy.
"I dived down on the floor," Grace said, "and just lay there, waiting for him to go away. I was so frightened I couldn't keep still, but eventually I managed to get out through the back door, and ran down an alleyway."
She ran sobbing into a nearby police station, she said.