Page last updated at 08:58 GMT, Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Virginia gunman kills eight and shoots down helicopter


Police say they believe the suspect is in the sealed-off area

Police have surrounded a lone gunman who shot and killed eight people in the US state of Virginia.

At one point, a police helicopter was fired on by the man and forced to land with a ruptured fuel tank.

All the dead were adults - men and women. Seven bodies were discovered at one home, while an eighth victim found on a road died on the way to hospital.

Officers say they have surrounded a suspect in woodland just outside the central town of Appomattox.


Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said: "We know he's armed, we know he's dangerous, we know he's already shot at a state police helicopter, and actually struck it several times.

"Fortunately it was able to make a safe emergency landing... Unfortunately though this individual is responsible for a total of eight deaths at this time."

'Lock your doors'

The drama began when the authorities received a call about one of the victims lying in the middle of a road, in need of medical assistance.

When a deputy arrived at the scene, he heard gunfire and called for back up.

Police said at a media briefing that officers from across the state had been brought in to the area.

Police dogs and a National Guard helicopter with thermal imaging equipment were being used to search the woods.

"We have him [the gunman] contained, we're fairly sure of that," they said.

Suspected gunman Christopher Speight
Virginia State Police issued this photo of the suspect, Christopher Speight

It is not known what prompted the shootings, but Virginia State Police identified the suspect as Christopher Speight, 39.

The Washington Post quoted local officials as saying two of the dead were believed to be his wife and son.

A number of people living in the sealed-off wooded area have been evacuated.

Bethel Hawkins - who lives about two miles (3km) from where the shootings happened - told the Associated Press news agency police had warned families to lock their doors.

"We're just being cautious, keeping our doors locked, not going outside," she said.

Appomattox is about 160km (100 miles) south-west of Virginia's capital Richmond.

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