Looking for a motive

British detectives searched for clues Thursday to the motive behind a taxi driver’s murderous rampage across a tranquil part of rural England, which left 12 people dead and 11 wounded before the gunman committed suicide.

Relatives of shooting victim Darren Rewcastle gather to lay flowers at the taxi rank

Relatives of shooting victim Darren Rewcastle gather to lay flowers at the taxi rank

WHITEHAVEN — British detectives searched for clues Thursday to the motive behind a taxi driver’s murderous rampage across a tranquil part of rural England, which left 12 people dead and 11 wounded before the gunman committed suicide.

More than 100 detectives were scrutinizing why Derrick Bird, 52, decided to go on a three-hour shooting spree Wednesday in the northwestern county of Cumbria.

Some reports said Bird had argued with fellow cab drivers the night before the killings; others suggested a family dispute. But Cumbria police said the process of piecing together Bird’s movements and ascertaining a motive is “a difficult and slow process” and urged patience.

The killing spree was Britain’s deadliest mass shooting since 1996, and it jolted a country where handguns are banned and multiple shootings rare.

Police initially said 25 people had been wounded, but Home Secretary Theresa May said Thursday that 11 were treated in hospitals. Eight remained hospitalized Thursday, with three upgraded to serious condition from critical.

Police identified one of the victims as Kevin Commons, a lawyer who did work for Bird’s family. The BBC and other media reported that Bird’s twin brother, David, was among the fatalities.

The first shootings were reported Wednesday morning in the coastal town of Whitehaven, about 350 miles (560 kilometres) northwest of London. Police warned residents to stay indoors as they tracked the gunman’s progress across the county.

Witnesses described seeing the gunman driving around shooting from the window of his car. Police said there were 30 separate crime scenes.

Bird’s body was found in woods near Boot, a hamlet popular with hikers and vacationers in England’s hilly, scenic Lake District. Police said two weapons, a shotgun and a .22-calibre rifle fitted with a telescopic sight, were recovered from the scene. Officials confirmed Bird held licenses for both weapons.

In Whitehaven, groups of residents gathered at the local market to remember those who died — and recount tales of near-misses.

Michael Murray, who is also a taxi driver, was standing near the front of cab stand when Bird, known affectionately as “Birdie,” first approached.

“I saw ’Birdie’ pull up beside me and he was waving a shotgun out of the window,” Murray said. “I ducked to the floor before I could see if he was pointing at me.

“I always got on with Birdie, he had no grudges against me, I suppose that’s what saved me. He was a sound guy and a private guy.”

June Lamb, a housewife, said she knew Bird “very well.”

“Derrick didn’t mix with people very much,” she said. “He was very quiet, but not a loner as such. He would lark about with people.”

Prime Minister David Cameron offered condolences to “all those caught up in these tragic events, especially the families and friends of those killed or injured.” Queen Elizabeth II said she shared in “the grief and horror of the whole country.”

May said she and the prime minister would visit the area on Friday.

Cameron’s spokesman, Steve Field, declined to say whether the government would consider any review of Britain’s stringent gun laws as a result of the killings.

“It is important that we find out the facts of the case before going into further detail,” Field said. “The U.K. gun laws are the toughest in the world. There are very strict rules operating at the moment.”

Rules on gun ownership were tightened after two massacres in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1987, gun enthusiast Michael Ryan killed 16 people in the English town of Hungerford. In 1996, Thomas Hamilton killed 16 children and a teacher at a primary school in Dunblane, Scotland.

In recent years, there have been fewer than 100 gun murders annually across Britain.

May told lawmakers that “mass killings as we saw yesterday are fortunately extremely rare in our country. But that doesn’t make it any the less painful, and it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do everything we can to stop it happening again.”

J. Reid Meloy, a forensic psychologist and adjunct professor at the University of California, San Diego, said most mass killers have spent considerable time formulating their plan. Though they are harbouring murderous intent, they appear to be living their lives normally until the attack happens. Often, friends or investigators will look back at the killer’s final days and see a dropped hint about what was being planned.

“There’s likely to be leakage, some communication to a third party about an intent to do this kind of killing,” Meloy said. “But people who have access to the leakage tend to minimize it or deny it. It is such an unusual or abhorrent event, they don’t believe the person is going to do it.”

Peter Leder, a taxi driver who knew Bird, said he had seen the gunman Tuesday and didn’t notice anything that was obviously amiss. But he was struck by Bird’s departing words.

“When he left he said, ‘See you Peter, but I won’t see you again,”’ Leder told Channel 4 News.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, centre, tables the federal budget in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Monday April 19, 2021. The federal government unveiled spending plans to manage the remainder of the COVID-19 crisis and chart an economic course for a post-pandemic Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
ATB Financial: Five things to know about the federal budget

Five things stand out above the rest in the federal government’s budget,… Continue reading

House sales remain hot in central Alberta with first-quarter sales nearly double last year’s numbers. Photo by PAUL COWLEY/Advocate staff
Central Alberta real estate market hot in 2021

Residential sales nearly double 2020 in first quarter

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer gave an update on Olymel's COVID-19 situation on Wednesday. (File photo by Advocate staff).
Veer addresses rising COVID-19 cases in Red Deer

Red Deer has added nearly 200 cases of active COVID-19 cases in past week

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw and Premier Jason Kenney say the province would look at adding additional COVID-19 measures in the coming weeks if the virus continues to spread. (Photo by Government of Alberta)
Walk-in COVID-19 vaccination clinic to open in Red Deer

Alberta adds 1,345 new cases of the virus

Innisfail RCMP are investigating a single-vehicle crash that happened west of Bowden on March 21, 2021. (File photo by Advocate staff)
RCMP investigate culturally insensitive graffiti at Sylvan Lake school

Sylvan Lake RCMP is investigating a vandalism incident. On April 17 around… Continue reading

A vial of the Medicago vaccine sits on a surface. CARe Clinic, located in Red Deer, has been selected to participate in the third phase of vaccine study. (Photo courtesy www.medicago.com)
Red Deer clinical research centre participating in plant-based COVID-19 vaccine trial

A Red Deer research centre has been selected to participate in the… Continue reading

Vancouver Canucks' Tanner Pearson, right, celebrates after scoring against Toronto Maple Leafs goalie David Rittich during the third period of an NHL hockey game in Vancouver, on Tuesday, April 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Pearson, Sutter each score twice as Canucks dump Leafs 6-3

Pearson, Sutter each score twice as Canucks dump Leafs 6-3

Everton's Gylfi Sigurdsson celebrates with teammates after scoring his side's second goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Everton and Tottenham Hotspur at Goodison Park in Liverpool, England, Friday, April 16, 2021. (Peter Powell/Pool via AP)
Super League collapses after the 6 English clubs withdraw

Super League collapses after the 6 English clubs withdraw

Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez delivers against the Toronto Blue Jays during the first inning of a baseball game Tuesday, April 20, 2021, at Fenway Park in Boston. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
Bogaerts’ 3-run HR, Rodriguez lift BoSox over Blue Jays 4-2

Bogaerts’ 3-run HR, Rodriguez lift BoSox over Blue Jays 4-2

Pound says Olympic qualifying issues a concern to IOC

Pound says Olympic qualifying issues a concern to IOC

Former University of Victoria rowing coach Barney Williams is photographed in the stands during the Greater Victoria Invitational at CARSA Performance Gym at the University of Victoria in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, November 29, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Rowing Canada sanctions former head coach of B.C. varsity women’s team

Rowing Canada sanctions former head coach of B.C. varsity women’s team

Ontario Hockey League cancels 2020-21 season as COVID-19 cases surge in province

Ontario Hockey League cancels 2020-21 season as COVID-19 cases surge in province

Lionel Desmond (front row, far right) was part of the 2nd battalion, of the Royal Canadian Regiment, based at CFB Gagetown and shown in this 2007 handout photo taken in Panjwai district in between patrol base Wilson and Masum Ghar in Afghanistan. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Facebook-Trev Bungay MANDATORY CREDIT
Desmond inquiry: Veterans Affairs submits internal review after initial refusal

Desmond inquiry: Veterans Affairs submits internal review after initial refusal

FILE - In this Feb. 18, 2021 file photo State representatives gather at the Capitol, in Phoenix. Two years after Arizona lawmakers repealed a law barring any instruction on HIV or AIDS that that "promotes a homosexual lifestyle," they are close to enacting a broad remake of the state's sex education laws with a particular focus on LGBTQ issues. (AP Photo/Matt York,File)
Arizona governor vetoes strict sex education legislation

Arizona governor vetoes strict sex education legislation

Most Read