TYRONE, Missouri (Reuters) - A man armed with a handgun went on a house-to-house shooting spree in a rural Missouri town, killing seven relatives and neighbours before taking his own life, officials said on Friday.
All of those killed by the gunman, identified as Joseph Aldridge, 36, lived within a few kilometres of each other in the tiny community of Tyrone, an unincorporated area with a population of about 50, the authorities said.
The authorities said the motive was unclear and declined to comment on whether the murders had been triggered by the death of Aldridge's mother, who was found at her home. The authorities said she may have died from natural causes. "It's heartbreaking," said Mr Todd Haley, senior pastor at Ozark Baptist Church, about three miles from Tyrone. "Anytime you see families that go to this level of violence, it's a shame."
The events, which the police said were spread over six crime scenes, began unfolding around 10pm on Thursday when a girl called 911 from a neighbour's home. A man who declined to be identified told a Reuters photographer that a teenage girl in a nightgown came to his house, running barefoot through a snowy wooded area and crying that her parents had been shot. They called the police and law enforcement officials found her parents dead at their home.
The authorities said they later discovered five other people dead and a wounded woman in three other houses. The woman, who is expected to recover, gave them information about the shooter, Texas County Sheriff James Sigman said.
Four of the victims were identified as Garold Aldridge, 52, his wife Julie Aldridge, 47, Harold Aldridge, 50, and his wife Janell Aldridge, 48.
The authorities would not identify the other victims, but the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that they were Carey Shriver and his wife Valirea Shriver, and Mr Shirver's father Darrell Shriver. The older Mr Shriver's wife Martha was wounded but survived, the paper said.
The Shrivers are members of a prominent family that has lived in the area for generations and operates several businesses, including a Cabinet-making shop, a cattle ranch and an auto dealership.
There was no sign of forced entry in any of the houses, Mr Sigman said, adding that the killings had shattered a sense of safety in the town. "Start locking your doors. The world is changing. You got to be safe," he said.
The authorities said an autopsy would be done on Saturday on the body of Joseph Aldridge's 74-year-old mother Alice Aldridge.
Joseph Aldridge's body was discovered with a self-inflicted gunshot wound in a pickup truck parked on a highway in nearby Shannon County, the authorities said. Mr Sigman said Aldridge had a minor criminal history.
Tyrone is about 160 miles south-west of St Louis, near the Mark Twain National Forest, in an area that attracts hunters, campers, and river rafters.
Texas County, where Tyrone is located, has a population of roughly 24,000 people.
"Everybody knows everybody here. We all cry together," said Mr Scott Dill, superintendent of the Houston School district in Texas County.
Mr Charles Smith, who lives a few miles from the shootings, said the Aldridge family seemed like good people. "They would help you out when they could, just like we all do down here in the country," he said.