- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 20, 2010

UPDATED:

APPOMATTOX, Va. — Bomb teams searched Wednesday for explosive devices that may have been planted by a man accused of shooting eight people to death, then firing at a police helicopter before surrendering after a night in dense woods.

Christopher Bryan Speight, 39, was wearing a bulletproof vest but had no weapons when he turned himself in to police around 7:10 a.m., Appomattox County Sheriff O. Wilson Staples said.

Sheriff Staples said Wednesday that Mr. Speight co-owned a home where three bodies were found inside and four outside. The eighth victim, who was found barely alive on the road just outside the house, died at a hospital.

Authorities still do not know the motive for the shooting or how Mr. Speight was related to the victims. Police spokeswoman Corrine Geller would not say what Mr. Speight said when he turned himself in.

He was wearing camouflage pants and a black sweat shirt when officers put him in a sheriff’s car at state police headquarters later Wednesday. He was taken to Appomattox Regional Jail and has not been charged.

Sheriff Staples said bomb technicians and bomb-sniffing dogs were sent to the house because authorities believed explosive devices may have been planted in and around it.

The drama that started around noon Tuesday paralyzed this rural area about 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.

“This is a horrific tragedy,” Ms. Geller said at a news conference Wednesday. “It’s definitely one of the worst mass killings in Virginia, probably since the Virginia Tech tragedy in April of 2007.”

Appomattox County court records show a concealed weapons permit was issued to a Christopher Bryan Speight three times between 1999 and last year. The issue dates match the five-year renewal period for concealed handgun permits under Virginia law.

Authorities earlier said Mr. Speight had a high-powered rifle, and Sheriff Staples said investigators believe he had weapons training based on the weapons found in his home, though they have no information to indicate he was in the military.

Mr. Speight’s uncle, Jack Giglio of Tampa, Fla., said his nephew was a deer hunter, though as far as he knew, Mr. Speight did not have any specialized weapons training.

“We’re shocked, of course,” Mr. Giglio said. “I’m not aware of any problems with him. It’s kind of out of the blue. We’re still trying to pick up facts, too.”

Mr. Giglio said he hadn’t seen Mr. Speight since 2006, when they both attended the funeral of Mr. Speight’s mother, who died of brain cancer.

State police backed by other agencies spent Wednesday night enforcing a perimeter around a swath of woods that was 2 miles long and 1,000 yards wide.

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.

At one point, authorities said, Mr. Speight fired at a state police helicopter, forcing it to land with a ruptured fuel tank about a half-mile from the house. No one was injured after one or more rounds hit the helicopter.

The drama began around noon Tuesday when deputies responded to an emergency call about an injured man along the side of a narrow country road.

A deputy who answered the emergency call heard more gunshots and soon the area, about three miles from the state police district headquarters, was filled with law enforcement from all over, with more than 100 responding.

Associated Press writer Larry O’Dell in Appomattox and Harry R. Weber in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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