Police in central Virginia early Wednesday swarmed the woods and cornered a man who they said shot and killed eight people and fired on a state police helicopter, rupturing its fuel tank.
Officers manned a road block along a pitch-dark, narrow, undivided country lane where police believed Christopher Speight, 39, was hiding. On Tuesday, police found three bodies inside a home on the road, with four other victims lying just outside.
The drama began to unfold around noon Tuesday when an eighth victim was spotted barely alive along the side of the road. A deputy who answered the emergency call heard more gunshots and soon the area just about 3 miles (5 kilometers) from the state police district headquarters was filled with law enforcement from all over, with more than 100 responding. The injured man died on the way to the hospital, said state police Sgt. Thomas Molnar.
Police with dogs and heat-sensing equipment from a National Guard helicopter planned to hunt through the night.
“They will continue until the suspect is apprehended,” Molnar said.
Earlier, as teams swarmed trying to catch the gunman, he fired at the helicopter trying to flush him out, police said. One or more rounds struck the helicopter, forcing it down, but no police were injured.
Police refused to speculate on a motive and would not say what type of weapon was used. Molnar also gave no background on the suspect, saying not much was known about him. Speight’s last known address was along the block lined with modest homes where the shootings occurred, but Molnar did not know if the suspect was still living there.
Police did not release the victims’ names or the suspect’s possible relationship to them. All the victims were adults and both men and women were killed, Molnar said.
He would not say if all the victims were shot at the home where most of the bodies were found. He also would not say whether the shootings happened at Speight’s address or another house.
A Google map search shows the area of the shootings was thick with trees, sometimes giving way to large clearings, which look to be farm fields. Buildings were spread out along the mostly flat area. Molnar said police believe Speight was still within the perimeter they had set up to surround him, but would not say how large an area they were searching. Police said they are also looking for a car and a pickup truck that belonged to Speight.
Speight was not listed as an offender on the Virginia Department of Corrections Web site and a search for his name on the Appomattox County courts site came up with no matches.
Speight’s address was included in online real estate listings posted last year. They say the wooden house had three bedrooms and three bathrooms and sat on 34 acres (14 hectares).
Appomattox is in a county of about 15,000 approximately 100 miles (160 kilometers) southwest of the state capital of Richmond. It is best known as the place where Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant to end the U.S. Civil War.
After the shootings, authorities told nearby residents to stay inside and a small Christian school was locked down until state police could escort about 60 children from the building.