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A town recovering from a massacre

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A town recovering from a massacre

By James Clarke

BBC News




The afternoon of Wednesday, 19 August, 1987 was one which would change the small town of Hungerford forever.


Michael Ryan, a 27-year-old unemployed labourer who was one of the town's 5,000 residents, went on the rampage through its streets killing 16 people, including his own mother, before shooting himself in the head.


His motive for the killings was never established and the massacre left Hungerford as a quiet town trying to come to terms with an event which had made it known around the world.


Ron Tarry, who had become mayor of Hungerford a few months earlier and still lives in the Berkshire town, told BBC News: "The first thing was absolute shock and disbelief, we couldn't believe it had happened and that it had happened here.


"Then it sank in and we realised it was one of our own townsmen."


Gradually we came to terms with it but for some people things were not the same again and never will be

Ron Tarry, mayor in 1987


Ryan was dressed in combat gear and armed with a Kalashnikov assault rifle, another automatic rifle, a Beretta pistol and at least one hand grenade.


His first victim was a woman he shot dead while she was having a picnic with her children at about 1230 BST in Savernake Forest - about 10 miles (16km) from Hungerford.


Shortly before 1300 BST firefighters were called to a house fire in Hungerford, where they found the body of Ryan's mother, Dorothy, in the home she had shared with her son. He had shot her dead.


Soon afterwards he moved into the town's main shopping area and began firing indiscriminately at people without warning, killing his neighbours, motorists driving through the town and a police officer who tried to tackle him.




Ryan eventually barricaded himself inside John O'Gaunt School, the school he had gone to as a boy.


After negotiations with a police officer who attempted to persuade him to come out of the school building, Ryan shot himself in the head, bringing the massacre to an end.


He was the 17th person to die and 15 others had been injured.


Mr Tarry said: "The general feeling was shock and disbelief and then a willingness to help the community.


"I suppose it was some weeks, some months, before the town returned to normal.


"We couldn't get rid of the press, the media and television crews for weeks and there was a memorial service held in the street in October. Most people in Hungerford attended that.


It was very difficult, but I was no different to anybody else, everybody lost someone or knew somebody involved

Peter Harries, present mayor of Hungerford


"But gradually we came to terms with it but for some people things were not the same again and never will be.


"It's very difficult to know how people are coping. They may have said they were OK, but you never really knew how they were, people put on a brave face."


The present mayor, Peter Harries, was living in Hungerford in 1987, but worked outside the town.


He said: "I had a phone call from my youngest son to say this was going on, so I came home and got here about one o'clock.


"It was a bit difficult because I could not find my oldest son Carl and I didn't find him until about 8pm. He had only come home on leave to visit us and of course this all happened."


The reason Carl Harries, now a soldier serving in Basra, could not be contacted that afternoon was because he was going around the town helping people who had been hurt.


His father said: "It was very difficult, but I was no different to anybody else, everybody lost someone or knew somebody involved.


"It was quite scary and you will never forget that, but we need to let it go by."


Hungerford's residents know the shootings are the main reason many people have heard of the town.




Mr Tarry said: "To some extent of course people think of Hungerford as the town where the shootings happened rather than the pleasant country town that it is and people came to the town to see where it had happened, which we didn't like.


"But the reaction here was good and the town pulled together very well, everybody wanted to do what was best for the town.


"Money began coming in the day after the shooting and when the money first started pouring in, we had no method of dealing with it.


"So a fund was set up and a lot of people worked on behalf of the fund and more than £1m came in."


Money went to families of the dead, people who had been injured and could not work, and some to those whose houses had been damaged when Ryan set fire to his own home.


It's history - it's the benchmark for all the others that have happened

Peter Harries


A memorial bearing the names of each of those who died was put up by the recreation ground where several of the killings happened.


On the 20th anniversary of the massacre, a short service will be held there. Mr Tarry and Mr Harries will be among those speaking and both hope it will be a quiet event.


Mr Harries said: "We want to try to keep it low key, but with something like this you can't, we have had a lot of media around.


"The people that were there will never forget it, but we're not trying to make it into a big deal, and then after this year we will probably be looking to remember it just in our local church services."


Mr Tarry said: "I expect a lot of the relatives won't come, a lot has happened since then.


"Those who were very small children are now adults, others who were older have passed on I'm afraid."


A year after the massacre, British gun laws were changed and semi-automatic weapons such as Ryan's Kalashnikov were outlawed, partly influenced by the events of that Wednesday afternoon in Hungerford.


Mr Harries said: "It's history - it's the benchmark for all the others that have happened.


"It has a place in the town but there are so many other things that go on in the town, which hopefully deflect attention from that."


Story from BBC NEWS:


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