“I wish I had stayed in bed”
On 19 August 1987 Michael Ryan, then 27, armed with several weapons, including an AK-47 rifle and a Beretta pistol, shot and killed 16 people including his mother, and wounded 15 others, before shooting himself. The carnage began at 12.30pm when Ryan, clad in combat gear, abducted a nurse in Savernake Forest, near Marlborough, Wiltshire. Returning to his home in Hungerford, Ryan shot his pet labrador, Blackie, and set his house ablaze before shooting his neighbours. He walked around Hungerford firing indiscriminately at people and passing cars.
Remarkably, 77-year-old Dorothy Smith told Ryan off: “I said, ‘You are frightening everybody to death. Stop it!’ He had a funny sort of grin on his face. So I yelled out that he was a stupid bugger.” Although people had called 999, the police refused to let most ambulance and fire crews into the vicinity, claiming it was too dangerous. One patrol car drove into Hungerford and as PC Roger Brereton pulled up, a warning came over his radio about a gunman on the rampage.
Ryan unleashed 24 shots into the car, the policeman radioed for help and then died. Linda Bright and Hazel Haslett drove an ambulance which did get through but, as they reversed, they came under fire. Both women would get bravery awards.
By this time, a police helicopter was warning people to stay indoors. Those who heeded the advice could not believe that the police were allowing the killing to continue and that no armed officers had arrived on the scene. The first policeman with a gun arrived at 1.18pm but he went to Hungerford Common and waited there for other sharpshooters to arrive.
Douglas Wainwright was shot while driving with his wife to visit their son, Trevor, a local policeman. By a terrible irony, it was PC Wainwright who had vetted Ryan when he wanted to modify his licence to cover the gun used in the Hungerford Massacre. Around 2.30pm, Ryan took refuge in the John O’Gaunt Secondary School where he was spotted at 5.25pm. The emergency services were allowed in, armed police surrounded the building and negotiations began.
Hungerford, Berkshire, England
12.30pm Wednesday 19 August 1987
At 6.52pm, Michael Ryan shot himself in the head, shattering his brain. The police took three hours to enter the building where they found Ryan’s body in a classroom. He had said to one policeman, “I wish had stayed in bed.”