A gunman killed at least nine people on a terrifying rampage across two Alabama counties Tuesday, burning down his mother's home, killing members of his own family on their porch and shooting apparent strangers as he drove by, authorities said. He then fatally shot himself.
Police were investigating shootings in at least four different locations in three neighboring communities, all of which were believed to be the work of a single gunman named Michael McLendon. Investigators declined to comment on a motive for the shootings, in which at least four other people were injured, including a child.
The afternoon of bloodshed began when McLendon burned down the house in Kinston where he lived with his mother, Lisa McLendon, according to Coffee County Coroner Robert Preachers. Officials located Lisa McLendon's body inside the house, but they had not been able to get inside the still-burning house to determine a cause of death or whether she was a 10th victim of her son's killing spree.
He then headed about 12 miles southeast to Samson, in Geneva County, where he shot and killed five people — four adults and a child — at a home. He killed one person each in two other homes.
The identities of all the victims were unknown, but Preachers said they included other members of the shooter's family.
"He started in his mother's house," Preachers said. "Then he went to Samson and he killed his granny and granddaddy and aunt and uncle. He cleaned his family out."
"We don't know what triggered it," Preachers added.
McLendon also shot at a state trooper's car, striking the vehicle seven times and wounding the trooper with broken glass.
He then killed someone at a Samson supply store, and another person at a service station.
Samson contractor Greg McCullough said he was pumping gas at the station when McLendon opened fire, killing a woman coming out of the service station and wounding McCullough in the shoulder and arm with bullet fragments that struck his truck and the pump.
"I first thought it was somebody playing," he said. He said the gunman roared into the parking lot and slammed on his brakes. Then he saw the rifle.
He said the gunman fired and the rifle appeared to jam, then he "went back to firing." Then he drove off.
McCullough, a father of two, said he tried to help the woman who was shot and yelled for someone to call an ambulance.
"I'm just in awe that something like this could take place. That someone could do such a thing. It's just shocking," McCullough told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
Police pursued McLendon to Reliable Metal Products just north of Geneva, about a dozen miles southeast of Samson, where he fired an estimated 30 rounds from a semiautomatic weapon, the Alabama safety department said. One of the bullets hit Geneva Police Chief Frankie Lindsey, who was saved by his bullet proof vest.
McLendon then went inside the plant and shot himself, according to the safety department's statement.
Reliable Metal Products makes grills and vents for heating and AC systems, mainly for hotels. A person who answered the phone at the plant said no one could talk about the shooting.
State Rep. Warren Beck, a Republican whose district includes Geneva, said the gunman had worked at Reliable Metal.
"My secretary heard gunfire everywhere," he said. "This is one of the most tragic events ever in Geneva County."
State Sen. Harri Anne Smith, R-Slocomb, said some of those killed in Samson were sitting outside.
"He was just driving down the street shooting at people sitting on their porches," she said. "A family was just sitting on the porch and they were shot."
Smith and Beck were at the Statehouse when state troopers came to get them and took them to Geneva County. Smith said the governor's office is sending resources and state troopers are setting up a command post.
A white single-story house where the five people were killed in Samson was cordoned off by police.
Police had hung white sheets to the entranceway to shield the scene where authorities said a black hearse that pulled away late Tuesday was transporting victims' bodies.
Samson Mayor Clay King said he knew the gunman.
"What I'm focusing on is people here in the town, making sure they feel comfortable," said King, who added the town opened a crisis center at the First Baptist Church with counselors available.
King said he's the "most shocked person in the world" about the shooting.
"I've lived here 44 years and never, never dreamed of this happening," he said.
John Rainey, an administrator at Wiregrass Medical Center, in Geneva, said a child was brought in with injuries then flown to another hospital. The staff had geared up to try to help other survivors, but their hopes were dashed when reports of the deaths came in.
"We set up for the worst there for a couple of hours and unfortunately we were getting the same bad reports as everyone else — most people were untreatable," said Rainey "It's something you'd expect in Atlanta or your bigger cities but in a little town it puts a lot of people in stress. Our nursing staff broke down in tears hearing what was going on and realizing they weren't going to be able to help them."
The towns of Geneva and Samson are near the Florida border in southeast Alabama. Geneva's population is about 4,400 and Samson, 2,000.
In the center of Samson, authorities in sheriff's cars and trucks with blue lights flashing blocked off part of East Main Street, where some of the shooting occurred.
At the hardware store, yellow tape was strung across the front of the store where at least five bullet holes punctured the glass windows to the store, with its wheelbarrows and Adirondack lawn chairs on display. An orange-and-black sign to the store reading "Closed" lay on the ground outside the store atop the glass shards.
David Bradley, 51, the owner of the hardware store, said he was inside behind the counter when the shooter opened fire outside his store. At the time, there were five customers inside, plus Bradley's 27-year-old son, Justin.
"No one was injured inside the store," David Bradley said, adding he didn't even get a glimpse at the suspect. "It happened so quick."