Explosives Found at Va. Mass Shooting Suspect's Home

Police say gunman shot at police helicopter, prompting emergency landing

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Christopher Speight

    Bomb technicians discovered a "multitude" of explosives Wednesday at a home where eight people were found dead, police said. The killings launched an all-night manhunt that ended when the suspect surrendered at sunrise.

    Christopher Bryan Speight, 39, was wearing a bulletproof vest but had no weapons when he turned himself in to police at about 7:10 a.m., Sheriff O. Wilson Staples said. Authorities say he fired at a state police helicopter, rupturing its gas tank and forcing it to land, but no one on board was hurt. Police still have not revealed a motive or identified the victims.

    Staples said Wednesday that Speight lived in the 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 the hospital.

    Police were concerned that Speight might have rigged the house with explosives, and state police Sgt. Thomas Molnar said bomb-sniffing dogs found a "multitude of devices inside and outside the house." Bomb technicians were exploding the devices -- a process expected to continue into Thursday.

    Authorities have not said how Speight was related to the victims. Police spokeswoman Corrine Geller also would not say what 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 being taken to Appomattox Regional Jail and had not been charged.

    Police did not identify the dead, but rumors flew around the county, which has about 14,500 residents. Appomattox County Schools Superintendent Dorinda Grasty said she did not have the list of confirmed victims but expects the school system will be affected. Schools had planned to stay closed for the day before the gunman surrendered, but the flag was at half-staff in front of Appomattox County High School and Grasty said crisis teams will be available when students return Thursday.

    The drama that started around noon Tuesday paralyzed the 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," 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 Speight had a high-powered rifle and 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.

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

    "We're shocked, of course," 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."

    Giglio said he hadn't seen Speight since 2006, when they both attended the funeral for 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.

    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 3 miles from the state police district headquarters, was filled with law enforcement from all over, with more than 100 responding.