By Calvin Palmer
The relatives of at least 12 people are no doubt asking that question after a gunman went on the rampage today in Cumbria, England.
Taxi driver Derrick Bird killed at least 12 people and wounded another 25, three of them critically, before taking his own life.
Armed with a .22 rifle and a shotgun, the 52-year-old shot passers-by at random during a three and a half-hour drive along the Cumbrian coast.
Some reports stated Bird beckoned victims over to his Citroën Picasso car before blasting them at point-blank range. Other witnesses said he was driving along the road pointing his gun out of the window.
A fellow taxi driver, who wished to remain anonymous, said Bird had argued with colleagues the evening before the attack. Three of his colleagues had been shot, two fatally.
He said: “All of the taxi drivers were friends. But I heard last night there was an argument on the taxi rank.
“I don’t know what caused it, but something must have happened last night. Derrick Bird took off in his car and went home. I don’t know what time of night it was.”
The shootings began in Whitehaven and ended near Boot, after Bird had switched to another car. He crashed near a wood, where police discovered the body of the divorced father-of-two and the guns at his side.
In addition to two people in Whitehaven — one of whom as named as Darren Rewcastle — other victims are believed to included Gary Purdham, a farmer working in a field alongside a road where the killer passed, a woman out shopping and a man in Egrement crossing a bridge. Reports suggest a door-to-door salesman, a cyclist, a pub landlord were also hit.
Witnesses described how some victims were shot multiple times as they tried to flee. A number of the dead were said to have been shot in the head at point blank range.
Deputy Chief Constable Stuart Hyde said officers are examining 30 crime scenes.
“Our condolences go out to families and friends of those affected by the horrific incidents that unfolded today,” he said. “It’s been a truly exceptional and challenging incident that Cumbria Police has had to deal with today.”
“This has shocked the people of Cumbria and the country to the core,” he added.
The incident started at a taxi rank in Duke Street, Whitehaven. The alarm was raised at 10:35 a.m. after shots were fired into a car.
Bird drove away, with witnesses reporting seeing him hanging out of the driver’s window with a shotgun.
With the police in pursuit, he passed the nuclear power station at Sellafield, which was temporarily locked down
Bird drove to Egremont where he killed at least two more people, before passing through Gosforth and Seascale, leaving more bodies in his wake.
At the small hamlet of Boot, as terrified locals hid in the village pub, he abandoned his transport and fled on foot.
Bird was self-employed and lived alone, said Sue Matthews, a telephonist at A2B Taxis in Whitehaven.
She said: “To be honest, he was a quiet fellow. I am in absolute shock … It is like watching something from America.”
That was exactly my thought. It just goes to show that even with the tight firearms control Britain has, it is all too easy for someone to spread carnage and misery from the barrel of a gun.
Of course, the gun lobby argues that people kill people, not guns. And yet I wonder if this taxi driver would have gone on a strangling spree, killing his 12 victims with his bare hands and attempting to squeeze the life out of 25 others?
Guns kill people. That is what they are designed to do.
Of course, the John Wayne heroes here in America will argue the widespread adoption of firearms by the community would have prevented the slaughter. Would it really?
My idea of civilization does not include 280-pound rednecks loosing off shots in an attempt to stop a criminal but it does include such people having to meet stringent criteria before they can own a lethal weapon. A civilized society entrusts the apprehension of criminals to the police, not a rag-bag of wannabe vigilantes. It is part of the process of government; it is the job of government.
Of greater concern is not that gun control failed but that Bird was allowed to drive for more than three hours on a trail of murder and mayhem.
Questions need to be asked regarding the response by Cumbria Police. Deputy Chief Constable Hyde has some serious explaining to do.
Where was the force’s armed response unit? Have police in Cumbria never heard of roadblocks? Was Bird trailed by a police helicopter, whose officers could have alerted those on the ground?
That this incident was allowed to continue unchecked for more than three hours is damning evidence with regard to the competency of Cumbria Police.
Never mind the condolences Deputy Chief Constable Hyde, a letter of resignation should be uppermost in your mind because you, and the men you command, clearly failed the people of Cumbria today.