Watching the tragic news today regarding the shootings in Cumbria has brought back all sorts of memories for me.
In 1987 I was in Hungerford at the time Michael Ryan went walkabout. I didn't come into contact with him or anywhere near him thankfully - I was on the other side of town at a mate's house on Prospect Road. We did hear the guns going off though, it sounded like firecrackers going off, but we knew immediately what it was despite, bizarrely, never having heard a semi-automatic weapon before. But we didn't really have any idea what was going on or the reasons at first for the gun sounds, there was however a really weird experience of silence everywhere before the overwhelming noises of sirens.
I didn't live in Hungerford, I lived a few miles away in a village called Kintbury, but I went to the local John O'Gaunt school where Ryan eventually killed himself (in my English room as it happens which they painted afterward a conspicuous bright green). I had been dropped off in Hungerford for the day as it was the summer holidays, to visit my mate. I was only 13 at the time.
Looking back I had a lucky escape, unfortunately though 3 of my classmates were shot, or shot at. Thankfully they all survived although one lost a leg.
A number of memories stay with me. One was the reaction of my mum when she eventually picked me up late in the evening. Having dropped me off earlier in the day, the first she heard of the massacre was on the local news in the early evening. The phones had been cut off and so had the town, and in the days before mobiles my mum had no idea what was happening and was unable to reach me. Panic is not an adequate word. I was perfectly fine but unfortunately she didn't know that. When she did eventually manage to pick me up I'd never seen her so emotional before or indeed since.
The other thing that stuck me was after all the media had finished and left, how quickly the residents of Hungerford wanted to forget. It was never spoken off again unless they had to. My school never mentioned a word despite a number of pupils being shot. And some of those that lost relatives were made to feel outcasts by the rest of Hungerford inhabitants - they were treated like a stain on the community. Astonishing I know, but there was a clear determination for a very long time that continues to this day to pretend it never happened.
Of course, not long after the tragedy there was all sorts of calls for something, anything, to be done. This led to the stable door action of further gun controls and even the censoring of Rambo 3, despite that Michael Ryan never owned a video nor was a member of the local video store. (I know because I asked Ashley the owner at the time).
I imagine that similar calls will be made after today's events. But I can't imagine how fucked up in the head you must be to want to go around killing people at random or in Michael Ryan's case even your own mother. No amount of regulation, control or censorship can account for that. But something must be done will be the call.
The likes of Whitehaven, Seascale, Boot etc will now forever be on the map. My thoughts and sympathies go out to those who have been injured and to the relatives of those that died. Nothing will ever be the same again.
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