JACKSONVILLE, FLA., JUNE 18 -- A man whose car had been repossessed stalked into a crowded auto financing company here today and sprayed gunfire around the office, killing eight people and wounding five before turning the gun on himself.

James E. Pough, 42, of Jacksonville, armed with a .30-caliber semi-automatic rifle and a .38-caliber revolver, said nothing to stunned employees before opening fire at the General Motors Acceptance Corp. this morning, police said.

Pough and seven of those he shot died at the scene, and one died at a hospital. The five wounded were in critical condition at two area hospitals, including one woman who had been shot seven times.

Duval County Sheriff James McMillan said Pough fired continuously as he walked from the front toward the rear of the office, until "he apparently didn't see anyone else." The victims were all shot with a .30-caliber Universal rifle, McMillan said. Pough then shot himself, apparently with the revolver.

McMillan said his investigators were mystified about a possible motive other than the repossession. "There was no indication he was looking for anyone. It looked like he was shooting anyone he saw," McMillan said.

The incident was the latest in a series of mass shootings in the last several years by lone gunmen and is likely to rekindle debate on gun registration.

Pough had pleaded guilty to a felony charge of aggravated assault in 1971. Under Florida state law, he thereby was barred from owning handguns, but he had at least two guns registered in his name, police said.

"Sure, it disturbs me, and I wish I could tell you it was unusual," McMillan said of the appearancethat Pough had obtained the guns illegally. "Unfortunately this happens all the time."

Pough, whose red 1988 Pontiac Grand Am was repossessed last January, drove to the one-story building in a 13-year-old Buick and quickly walked inside.

He shot and killed one customer at the front counter, then turned toward the 86 workers, many of whom were seated in rows of desks. Employees unable to flee the room sought cover under their desks, but Pough found several and shot them.

Employee Richard Langille said office workers dove for cover as soon as the first shots rang out. "And then we realized the guy was pointing his gun underneath people's desks and killing them one by one," he said. "I just saw the bottom of the carpet and prayed."

Witnesses said Pough methodically went from desk to desk firing his rifle. Police found several rifle clips, some empty and some full, inside the office.

The victims were identified as: Julia W. Burgess, Drew Woods, Cynthia Perry, Barbara Holland, Sharon Hall, Lee Simonton, Janice David and Denise Highfill, the wife of a Jacksonville police officer.

McMillan said Pough is considered a prime suspect in two other murders in Jacksonville over the weekend.

A man and woman police believe to be a prostitute and her pimp were killed within several blocks of each other early Saturday morning, both with a .30-caliber rifle. Police showed Pough's picture to witnesses in the neighborhood today and said their description of the killer's car matched Pough's green Buick.

The woman was shot from a passing car, but the killer walked up to the man before firing, McMillan said. "It appears he was mad over a prostitution deal," McMillan said. "He felt he had been cheated."

The sheriff said ballistics tests will compare bullets recovered from the weekend murders with those from today's shooting spree.

In addition to the rifle and the revolver, police found a 9mm automatic pistol in the trunk of Pough's Buick. McMillan said Pough also had a .357 revolver.

Both the .38 and the .357 were registered in Pough's name, and had been acquired since his 1971 felony, police said. Records indicated that the .38 was registered June 4, 1979, and the .357 was registered Sept. 6, 1986.

The felony plea stemmed from a 1971 murder charge, McMillan said. But the charge was reduced and Pough pleaded guilty to aggravated assault. He was given five years' probation.

Pough, who lived in an apartment in north Jacksonville, was described by neighbors as quiet, hard-working and friendly. He was known in the neighborhood as "Pop." Several neighbors said they thought Pough had been married but now lived alone.

Mary Trapp, who lived nearby, recalled Pough was "always nice."

Florida is among a handful of states that have made significant recent changes to their gun laws. Last year, the state approved background checks for all dealer gun sales beginning in 1991 and has placed a constitutional amendment on the 1990 ballot calling for a three-working-day waiting period for the purchase of handguns. Florida lawmakers also passed a child accident prevention bill that requires gun owners to store loaded firearms under lock and key away from children's reach.

Staff writer Jay Mathews contributed to this report.