Gunman mows down class of children leaving 16 dead with their teacher
Thursday March 14, 1996
The small Scottish town of Dunblane was racked with grief and horror last night as details emerged of the killer who had lived in their midst until yesterday, when he shot dead 16 small children and a teacher in three minutes of carnage in a primary school gym.
Thomas Hamilton, aged 43, a disgraced former Scout master whose behaviour had attracted the attention of the police, turned one of his four guns on himself after killing or injuring all but one of a class of 29 five- and six-year-olds at Dunblane primary school, near Stirling.
Last night three of the 12 children at hospital in Stirling, Falkirk and Glasgow were on the critical list.
As the Queen, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition registered their shock and distress at the worst multiple murder this country has seen, there were immediate calls for greater security in schools and tightening of the laws on gun ownership, last addressed after the Hungerford massacre in August 1987.
No obvious motive had emerged yesterday, but the many people who had encountered Hamilton drew a picture of a man who was obsessed with small boys and embittered by rejection. He became a Scout leader in 1973, aged 20, but was asked to leave the following year because of complaints about his behaviour at camp. He tried many times to get back into the organisation. Later he ran a boys' club - at one time in the school gym, some say - and recently, said a neighbour, he had been turned down as a voluntary worker for the primary school where he yesterday wreaked such bloody havoc.
It is believed the gunman began firing his weapons in the playground not long after school began, then forced his way past two of the 25 staff as he walked along a passageway, past the dining room, and into the gym, where 45-year-old Gwen Mayor's class was in progress.
Fifteen children and Mrs Mayor died at the scene; another child died in hospital. It is not known how many bullets were discharged during the massacre, which the police estimate lasted between two and three minutes. Only one child escaped unscathed. Two pupils were absent because of illness.
The whole school heard gunfire. The head teacher, Ronald Taylor, was described by police as a hero for the work he put in to calm the distraught pupils of the 700-strong school.
Jack Beattie, a senior consultant paediatrician, who arrived with the medical team, said it was the worst carnage he had witnessed in his 19 years as a doctor.
"We saw a large number of dead and injured children when we arrived in the gymnasium," he said. "There were a number of teachers comforting the children who were still alive and ambulance staff who had arrived before us.
"The children were very quiet. They were in shock both because of the injuries and because of the psychological shock."
A governor at the school, Gerry McDermott, said he had comforted a distressed teacher, Stuart McCombie, who had rushed to the gymnasium after the shooting. "Stuart told me they were looking up at him with their wee eyes, slowly changing colour as the blood drained from their faces and they died in his arms. He said the room was just awash with blood."
Steven Hopper, aged 11, was in his classroom yards from the gym, which shortly before had been full for morning assembly. "It was right next to my classroom," he said. "I looked over and saw the gunman.
"He was coming towards me, so I just dived under my desk when he turned and fired at us. "It was pretty scary when he started firing at our classroom window because all the glass smashed in and I got hit by a piece."
As the news reached the town, parents congregated at the school gates. Their children were handed back to them in small groups, but the parents of the victims were led to a private room. Nora Dougherty, governor at the school, said: "I found out it was not my daughters. I felt relieved - and then I felt terribly guilty that I felt relieved."
A father outside the school gates cried: "I don't know if my girls are alive or dead. What kind of a maniac does this? They are just babies in there." Janet Aitken, mother of an 11-year-old pupil, said: "I have my son, but many don't. When I saw Campbell I just wanted to weep, but many parents aren't having a reunion with their children."