By Larry O'Dell
The Associated Press
APPOMATTOX, Va. — A gunman suspected of killing eight people before disappearing into dense Virginia woods and firing on a police helicopter surrendered at sunrise Wednesday, ending an overnight hunt by dozens of law enforcement officers.
Christopher Speight, 39, approached officers at the scene of the shootings at about 7:10 a.m. and turned himself in, said Sgt. Thomas Molnar of the Virginia State Police.
The drama that started around noon Tuesday paralyzed the rural area, approximately 100 miles southwest of Richmond, that is best known as the place where Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant to end the Civil War. Police with dogs and heat-sensing equipment swarmed the woods and warned residents to stay indoors with doors locked.
Police were interviewing Speight and a spokeswoman said she was not sure when he would be charged and appear in court.
"We are still interviewing him, and it's going to take hours to process the crime scene," State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said.
Appomattox County court records show a concealed weapons permit was issued to a Christopher Bryan Speight three times between 1999 and last year, although police were not able to confirm immediately he was the same man. No address was listed on the online court records. The issue dates in 1999, 2004 and 2009 match the five-year renewal period for concealed handgun permits under Virginia law.
Molnar didn't know whether Speight was armed when he surrendered.
Authorities earlier said he had a high-powered rifle and Sheriff O. Wilson Staples said investigators believe Speight had weapons training based on the weapons found in his home, but he declined to elaborate.
State police backed by other agencies spent the night enforcing a perimeter around a 2-miles stretch of woods and searching for Speight. The area was near the home where seven of the bodies were found. An eighth victim was found barely alive on the side of the road and died on the way to the hospital.
The house where most of the bodies were found is located on a gravel road, with woods and farm fields surrounding it. On Wednesday morning, police had the road blocked about 100 yards from the house.
All the victims were adults and both men and women were killed, Molnar said. Three of the bodies were found inside the home, and four just outside it, Molnar said.
Authorities said Speight was acquainted with the victims, but details of the relationships weren't released.
Police refused to speculate on a motive and would not say what type of weapon was used.
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 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.
At one point the gunman 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.
The drama began around noon Tuesday when a victim was spotted barely alive along the side of a narrow country road.
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A deputy who answered the emergency call heard more gunshots and soon the area, about 3 miles 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.