A lone shooter killed eight people Tuesday in central Virginia

A lone shooter killed eight people Tuesday in central Virginia, a law enforcement official told The Associated Press, and police have the suspect circled in the woods where they believe he is hiding.

State police say there were multiple deaths and injuries and that one shooter was responsible. They could not say what sparked the violence. The official who gave the number of dead asked for anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak about the investigation.

The drama paralyzed the rural area in southwest Virginia as police swarmed forests trying to flush out the suspect who, at one point in the manhunt, fired at a state police helicopter, forcing it to land with a ruptured fuel tank. No police were injured after one or more rounds struck the helicopter. No police were injured.

Canine units and a National Guard helicopter with thermal imaging equipment were being used to search a wooded area late Tuesday.

“They are searching the area and will continue until the suspect is apprehended,” State Police Sgt. Thomas Molnar said.

The violence began shortly after noon when an injured man was found on a rural stretch of road. A deputy who went to investigate fled after he heard gunshots, said police spokeswoman Corrine Geller.

“When the deputy arrived on the scene, that’s when he heard several shots,” Molnar said.

He said there were “several fatalities and one injury.” Police were still trying to determine the suspect’s relationship with the victims.

Residents near the shooting scene were told to remain inside and a small Christian school was locked down until state police could escort about 60 children from the building.

Resident Bethel Hawkins said police warned families to remain inside with their doors locked. She said many homeowners in the area are senior citizens.

“We’re just being cautious, keeping our doors locked, not going outside,” said Hawkins, who lives about 2 miles up the road from where the shootings occurred. “Our church service is supposed to be tonight, but we talked with our pastor and told him we’re not coming out. We’re not going out in the dark not knowing what’s out there. But we trust in the Lord to take care of us.”

Appomattox is in a county of about 15,000 approximately 100 miles southwest of Richmond. It is best known as the place where Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered his army in 1865 to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant to end the U.S. Civil War.

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