WASHINGTON (AFP) - Nine people are dead following a mass murder in rural Missouri in which the suspected gunman took his own life, police in the Midwestern state said Friday.
With an investigation still under way, it appeared that seven people were shot and killed in four different residences in the small Bible Belt town of Tyrone.
An eighth person, described as an elderly woman, was found dead in a fifth house, apparently "from natural causes," the Missouri State Highway Patrol said.
"The apparent suspect, a 36-year-old male from Tyrone, was found dead in a vehicle... in (neighbouring) Shannon County from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound," added police spokesman Sergeant Jeff Kinder.
"There are a total of nine deceased individuals, including the elderly female and the suspect," he told a press conference in Houston, the county seat.
No names were released pending notification of next of kin, and the relationship between the suspected killer and other deceased individuals was not disclosed.
"You know what? In our job we see a lot of bad stuff - and this is bad," said Kinder, who at one point lost count himself how many people died in how many different places.
Tyrone is a roadside town of 2,000 in south-central Missouri, in a 97 per cent white county in which one in five inhabitants live under the poverty line.
Yellow police tape surrounded one of the crime scenes, a simple one-storey white house with a small front porch, sitting amid a blanket of snow under a blue sky.
First word about the shootings came at 10.30pm on Thursday (12.30pm on Friday Singapore time) when a juvenile female called the Texas County Sheriff's Office.
She said she had heard gunshots in one of the houses, and fled to a neighbour's place to notify the authorities, Kinder said.
"Responding deputies found two deceased persons" at that first house, the spokesman said, then five other victims in three other residences.
"Another (fifth) residence revealed the body of a deceased elderly female who appeared to have died from natural causes," he added.
Police knocked on the doors of other Tyrone homes in the early hours of Friday, telling residents to stay inside and not to open their doors to strangers, the Herald newspaper in Houston, Missouri reported.