The Hungerford Massacre - Gunman Strolls Around Town Murdering Innocents

“The town was never the same again. People’s lives are changed forever.” Too many times, phrases used to describe crimes. Redundant passages too often repeated. But for the residents of an English market town of about 7,000 called Hungerford, in 1987, the clichés are true. In only six hours, the “Massacre of Hungerford” created fear and an evil presence that never left, despite an effort to return to normal, the knowledge that no place was immune from violence and bloodshed. Michael Ryan turned the tide to blood red, leaving near crime-free streets awash in destruction.
Michael Robert Ryan is born in Hungerford, England, in May 1960. He is the sole child of his fifty-year-old father, a taciturn, stern man, and a doting mother who is thirty. The Ryans are quiet, keep to themselves, but friendly when approached. Michael, terribly shy, polite to adults, has poor social skills a loner. His mother and father spoil him by giving him any toy he wants, any gift he demands. All he has to point to something and say, “I want.” Toy soldiers are a stock favorite. He is bullied at school but does have a few friends his age. Somewhere in his youth, he develops a fondness for guns. He shoots at kids with his air gun, perhaps to get revenge at bullies. Yet he even pops off rounds at friends. An air gun sounds like a real gun to some people. This scares his friends a few times; sure they are about to be killed.
One of the few public images of
shooter Michael Ryan
He is growing up now. Never marries and childless, living with both parents until his father dies. Michael has a penchant for anything military. His room is resembling an army barracks, with face paint, camo clothing, knives, bullets, bulletproof vests, and guns, always guns. He holds membership cards for two gun clubs. Soon the arsenal includes a Norinco Type 56S; an assault rifle patterned off the Kalashnikov; there is a Beretta 92FS and an M1 Carbine. The latter has magazines that can hold up to 30 rounds. To own these guns, a civilian must have an officer of the law sign off on legal paperwork. A PC Wainright signs Michael’s firearms certificates.
Michael makes up stories of grandiosity: he is engaged to a beautiful woman. There is a high-ranking military official who has taken an interest in Michael and is going to help Michael’s career. Michael claims he is now a parachute trooper. Michael’s mother plays along. She invites people to the wedding. She brags about her son’s future career. When his father dies, Michael and his mother sell the family home to move in together, a house on Southview Street, remaining in Hungerford. Michael spends time between home and two gun clubs. His mother continues to purchase whatever he points at, voicing a desire for what will make him happy. 
Michael Ryan is such an excellent shot that trophies and ribbons are part of his room’s décor. And he has another hobby, this one secret. 
Ten miles from Hungerford is a beautiful wooded park, Savernake Forrest. It’s perfect for dressing in full camouflage, ducking and diving between trees to follow unsuspecting people. Test your military skills. See how close you can get to them, watching the people. Sexual fantasies probably began to build for a man who has no social life. It’s a powerful feeling to creep upon ladies, smell and hear them, and slip away. He could reach over to touch them, more maybe. And they not even know he is there.
August 19, 1987, at noon Michael must now feel it’s time to act. He is wearing his military gear and carries a gun. 
Sue Godfrey, thirty, has pulled her car into a parking area and removed her two children from their car seats for a picnic in Savernake Forrest. Michael approaches. He orders her to strap the babies back into their car seats. He takes Sue into the forest. Hours later, the babies found wandering, hand in hand. Their mommy, one foot tangled over a low-lying wire fence, her body riddled with bullets. By then, everyone is sure who is responsible.
Michael is spooked. He races to his vehicle, drives away from Savernake Forrest to stop at a gas station, a place he is a regular customer. He fills his car and a gas can, then heads to the attendant’s booth. There is a motorcyclist who has stopped to gas his tank, then kicks his bike into gear to pull out. Only then, Michael chambers a round into his rifle. He aims, fires, and the glass in the booth explodes. The female attendant now dives for cover. She is cowering as the rifle’s front site hovers over her body. A clicking noise tells her the rifle jams. Frightened again, Michael runs. The motorcyclist has not departed. Michael works the chamber and takes a shot at the motorcyclist who roars off to dial 999 (the United States’ 9-1-1). It will be the first 999 to flood the emergency service hotline and later lead to much-needed changes in an entire structure. For now, it will be another call clogging a taxed system.
At 12:45, Michael arrives at his home on Southview Street. He dashes in to gather up precious guns, ammo, and don a bulletproof vest. He puts a bullet in the family dog. Then he upturns the gas can. Photographs, furniture, mementos, his boyhood collections, dishes, towels, clothing - in seconds, it is all a roaring furnace.
He leaps into the car and on his way to freedom … until the car doesn’t start. The engine whines. A turn of the key, a stomp of the foot pedals. This is the catalyst. No turning back now, because there is no escape. There is no beautiful girl, no fabulous wedding, and no high-ranking military official. Just a lonely man who will never fit in and everyone around reminds him of that. So he gets out and blisters the car full of bullet holes, then sets off for the only destiny he can fathom that will make him a real man.
The first few shots and two neighbors fall dead in their yard, a married couple that has known Michael since he was a two-year-old. They never knew what hit them. Next, random fire into a group of school-aged children. Up and down Southview. Some people walk into the gunfire unknowingly. Some dive for cover. Others just stop to stare in disbelief. This is Hungerford, a nonviolent little hamlet. What is shy, pacifist Michael Ryan doing? 
Michael has the Norinco Type 56S, the Beretta 92FS, and his M1 Carbine. There are full magazines stuffed in his pockets and waistband. He drops some of the magazines, not bothering to retrieve them. 
999 calls begin from Hungerford now. The system needs updating, and there are only two lines. Initially, the officers answering the calls are polite, then stern. They must hang up on callers. The closest ambulance and fire truck, even the police and Tactical Firearm Squad are an hour away. “Man shooting!” “A woman has been shot!” “My little girl is bleeding!” “A man is lying in the street!” And on. 
Then she comes home. Michael’s own mum, the only person he loves and trusts. People shout at her to stop driving, turn, stop! Michael’s gone mad! She ignores them all, drives towards her burning home. Witnesses see Mrs. Ryan get out of her car. She approaches her son. “Michael, stop it!” They converse in low tones. “No!” She orders him. “Don’t shoot me.” He raises the Beretta 92FS handgun. Bam. Bam. She falls dead at his feet. He pumps two more bullets into her back. Bam. Bam. And off he goes.
Finally, responding officer PC Brereton pulls up in a cruiser. He is calling for backup. This is no “shots fired,” as reported. This is a bloodbath. Michael casually circles the squad car and pumps two -dozen rounds into the vehicle. PC Brereton dies with the two-way radio mic in his clenched hand. 
Kicking down the door into a house. Shots echo from inside. Michael walks out just as calmly as he walked in. Three people are dead, including a married couple. The husband has thrown himself over his wife, who uses a wheelchair, to protect her. 
 He is circling Southview Street. Some of the targeted neighbors dodge the bullets. Others are only wounded, helplessly watching their blood pool around them. A taxi pulls up, and Michael pops off a few rounds into the car, killing two. 
His expression has not changed until now. He drops the Norinco Type 56S; his face registers shock as if just awoke from a deep sleep and realizes what he has done. Does it stop here?
Michael Ryan picks up the 56S. His face returns to the bland expression, his eyes dead again. And people begin to die in their tracks. 
PC Wainright is a Hungerford life-long resident, born and raised there. He is on his way, responding to the incident. He learns his good friend and fellow officer PC Breretonis is dead. Wainright knows it can get worse: it’s Market Day in Hungerford, and the town center is at its busiest. At the same time, unbeknownst to him, his parents are driving towards his house for a surprise visit. 
PC Wainright’s parents have stopped in the street because an armed man is standing in the center of the road. The man raises his rifle and kills PC Wainright’s father, who slumps behind the wheel. When his mother steps out of the car, the man raises his gun to shoot her down. PC Wainright will sign his own father’s death certificate. 
By now, first responders arrive, and the Tactical Firearm Squad huddles up to discuss strategy. The police helicopter was out on repair, so it is late arriving, now it hovers overhead but not too close. Michael’s Norinco Type 56S assault rifle, initially mistaken for the Kalashnikov, can penetrate a brick wall from half a mile away; it can take down a chopper. And no one knows where the shooter is now. There are bodies, pools of blood, scattered magazines, and bullet jackets everywhere. 
The sniper from the Tactical Firearm Squad doesn’t have his rifle; it’s locked up back at the station. The Squad was at training when they were called to the scene. 
Michael does not kill everyone he sees. To some, he holds a finger to pursed lips, “Shh.” To others, he lifts his rifle and says, “bang!” He does not turn towards downtown and the Market Day crowd. He turns the opposite direction, toward the John O’Gaunt School, where he spent many hours in its hallways and classrooms as a lad.
It is 1:57. Michael has left sixteen people dead and as many seriously wounded. 
Police find him at the school, and they surround the building. They have no idea of the school floor plan. Michael has the advantage. Then Michael shatters a lower window to throw a rifle out with a white “surrender” flag attached. Police outside begin a dialogue with Michael, who is crunched into a corner of a classroom. 
Michael continually asks about his mother. “Is she alright?” He assures them he did not mean to shoot her. It was "an accident. Will she be alright?”
He tells police he did not plan the spree. “Hungerford must be a mess,” he says. Then, “This would have never happened if my car would have started.”
One officer gets a look at Michael’s face. “He looked lost” the cop would later explain.
“Strange,” Michael calls out the window. “I killed all those people, but I don’t have the guts to blow my own brains out.”
The officer assures Michael, no one else has to die. No one wants Michael to die. They want to help
The press attempted to find answers: what
made Michael Ryan commit his crime?
him. 
Please, Mr. Ryan. Just come on out, hands up. 
Then, “What time is it?”
“It’s-” The officer checks his wristwatch – “Six forty-five. Why do you want to know what time it is, Mr. Ryan?”
The gunshot's explosion answered. 
Michael Robert Ryan found “the guts.” At 27, he is dead by suicide, now bringing the death toll to 17. The single bullet would be one of 84 recovered rounds. 
As a result of what England calls “The Hungerford Massacre,” the 999 system receives a complete makeover. The Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988 is passed by The Parliament of the United Kingdom, banning the ownership of semi-automatic center-fire rifles (and) restricting shotguns with a capacity of more than three cartridges. Until 1996, the Hungerford Massacre was the worst firearms-related crime in The United Kingdom. 
Some Hungerford residents were unkind to PC Wainright, blaming him for the massacre because he signed off on Michael Ryan’s firearms certificates. Other residents rallied around PC Wainright. He buried his good friend, both parents, and neighbors, lived with the guilt that he signed those certificates. PC Wainright continued to live in Hungerford even after retirement.  
And no one knew why Michael Robert Ryan went on a shooting spree that August 19, 1987. Psychiatrists tried to diagnose him. Sociologists made an effort. Friends and neighbors attempted to dredge up a memory that might explain. 
The two people that might have a substantial clue are gone. Michael is cremated. His mother is buried. So are the answers. 

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