APPOMATTOX, Va. — Police with dogs and heat-sensing equipment hunted for a man they say shot eight people to death Tuesday and then nearly took down a police helicopter that was trying to flush him out of the woods near this central Virginia town.
State police said officers had the suspect, Christopher Speight, 39, circled in the woods late Tuesday near the home where seven of the bodies were found and they believed he was still alive. An eighth victim was found barely alive on the side of the road - which led to police being called - and died on the way to the hospital.
All the victims were adults and both men and women were killed, state police Sgt. Thomas Molnar said. Three of the bodies were found inside the home, and four just outside it, Molnar said.
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. Speight's last known address was along the block where the shootings occurred, but Molnar did not know if the suspect was still living there. He also would not say if all the victims were shot at the home.
The drama paralyzed the rural area as police swarmed forests trying to catch the suspect who fired at a state police helicopter, forcing it to land with a ruptured fuel tank, police said. No police were injured after one or more rounds struck the helicopter.
A National Guard helicopter with thermal imaging equipment were being used to search the woods.
"They are searching the area and will continue until the suspect is apprehended," Molnar said.
The violence began shortly after noon when the injured man was found on a rural stretch of road. A deputy who went to investigate fled after he heard gunshots, police spokeswoman Corrine Geller said.
"When the deputy arrived on the scene, that's when he heard several shots," Molnar said.
Police did not release the victims' names or the suspect's possible relationship to them.
A Google map search shows the area of the shootings was thick with trees, sometimes giving way to large clearings. Buildings were spread out. 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 belong to Speight.
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.
Resident Bethel Hawkins said police warned families to lock their doors in an area with many senior citizens.
"We're just being cautious, keeping our doors locked, not going outside," said Hawkins, who lives about 2 miles up the road from where the shootings occurred. "Our church service is supposed to be tonight, but we talked with our pastor and told him we're not coming out. We're not going out in the dark not knowing what's out there. But we trust in the Lord to take care of us."
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Appomattox is in a county of about 15,000 approximately 100 miles southwest 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 Civil War.