The Hungerford Massacre occurred in Hungerford, Berkshire, England, on August 19, 1987. A 27-year-old unemployed local laborer, Michael Ryan, armed with several weapons, including an AK-47 rifle and a Beretta pistol, shot and killed sixteen people including his mother, and wounded fifteen others, before fatally shooting himself.
A report on this incident was commissioned by the Home Secretary, Douglas Hurd, from the Chief Constable of Thames Valley Police, Colin Smith. It remains, along with the Dunblane massacre, one of the worst lone-wolf peacetime atrocities in British history.
The massacre led to the Firearms (Amendment) Act, 1988, which banned the ownership of semi-automatic center-fire rifles and restricted the use of other firearms with a capacity of more than two rounds. The Hungerford Report had demonstrated that Ryan’s collection of weapons was legally licensed.
The first shooting occurred seven miles to the west of Hungerford in Savernake Forest in Wiltshire, at 12:30 in the afternoon of August 19. Susan Godfrey, 33, from Reading, Berkshire was picnicking with her two young children when she was abducted by Ryan at gun-point and shot fifteen times in the back.
Michael Ryan then drove in his car, a Vauxhall Astra, from the forest along the A4 towards Hungerford and stopped at a petrol station three miles away from the town. After filling a petrol can he shot at the cashier, Mrs Kakoub Dean, and missed. Ryan again tried to shoot her at close range, but this time his gun was empty. He left the petrol station and continued towards Hungerford. Mrs Dean placed an emergency call to the police.
At around 12:45 he was seen at his home in South View, Hungerford. He shot the family dog or dogs (reports differ, one or two). He set fire to the house with the petrol he bought earlier in the day, the fire damaging three surrounding properties. He then removed the three shotguns from his car, possibly because it would not start. He shot and killed husband and wife Roland and Sheila Mason, who were in their back garden at their house in South View.
On foot, Ryan proceeded towards the common, injuring two more people: Marjorie Jackson and Lisa Mildenhall (aged 14, shot in both legs). Mrs. Jackson contacted George White, a colleague of her husband, who contacted her husband Ivor Jackson, who were both later shot, leaving White dead and Jackson injured. On the footpath, towards the common, Michael Ryan also killed Kenneth Clements who was walking with his family.
Returning to Southview, Michael Ryan shot 23 rounds at PC Roger Brereton, a police officer who had just arrived at the scene, killing him as he remained sitting in his duty car. Linda Chapman and her daughter, Alison Chapman, were next shot and injured, having just driven into Southview in a car. Ryan fired 11 bullets from his semi-automatic into their Volvo; Linda was hit in the shoulder, Alison in the right thigh – the bullet travelling into her lower back and severing some of the nerves leaving her permanently disabled. Linda was able to drive out without further injury to the hospital.
Michael Ryan moved along Fairview Road, killing Abdur Khan, who was in his back garden, and injuring Alan Lepetit who was walking along the road. An ambulance, which had just arrived in the road was next shot at, injuring Hazel Haslett before it drove off.
By, or before, 14:30 Michael Ryan had ensconced himself at the John O’Gaunt Secondary School (closed and empty at that time of year for summer holidays), where he had previously been a pupil. Police surrounded the building. Negotiators made contact with him; at one point he waved what appeared to be an unpinned grenade at them through the window. At 19:00, still in the school, Michael Ryan shot himself. One of the statements Ryan made towards the end was widely reported: “I wish I had stayed in bed”.
Michael Ryan had killed fifteen people, and wounded ten others.
The British tabloid press was filled with stories about Michael Ryan’s life in the days following the massacre. The tabloid press can be an unreliable source and in English law you cannot libel the dead. In addition Michael Ryan had killed his mother who would, perhaps, have been able to shine most light on his private life. Press biographies all stated that he had a fondness for, and possibly even an obsession with, guns.
The majority claimed that Michael Ryan possessed magazines about survival skills/firearms, Soldier of Fortune being frequently named. He was an only child, reportedly sullen and bullied at school. His father was in his fifties when he was born and had died around two years prior to the shootings. Ryan lived alone with his mother, who was a dinner lady at the local primary school; there was extensive press comment on this suggesting the relationship was ‘unhealthy’, that Ryan was ‘spoiled’, a Guardian headline describing Ryan as a ‘mummy’s boy’.
It was alleged, particularly by tabloid newspapers, that Michael Ryan was inspired by the film Rambo, some weakly remarking on his armed-forces style clothing. It was cited as an example of the hypodermic needle model of negative media effects, particularly relevant in the wake of the controversy over video nasties. It later transpired that Ryan had never seen the film (Buckingham, 2001: 76) but the allegations provided sensationalist headlines and imagery (see Webster, 1989). It is true that Ryan owned violent films. It is also true that a great many young men possess violent films but do not go on to act violently.
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