One Bloody Afternoon

Nothing has ever happened like Hungerford. The years do not lessen the shock the nation felt at the news of Michael Ryan’s massacre of innocent people on the streets of this picture-postcard town.

What, on Wednesday 19th August 1987, made this loner put on paramilitary kit, arm himself with a Beretta pistol, an M1 carbine and a high-velocity Kalashnikov rifle, and drive the beautiful Savernake Forest to find his first victim? Here he shot dead an ebullient, attractive mother of two young children, as they picnicked in the sunshine. Why did sixteen men and women, including Ryan’s own mother, have to die on that stiflingly hot summer’s day?

We follow Ryan on his journey of motiveless killings as he drives from Savernake Forest to his local filling station, where he tries to shoot the cashier, then on to his Hungerford home, which he burns to a shell. Now on foot and armed, he kills several people in his own road, rampages across a recreation ground where children are playing on swings and slides, and swimmers are in the pool. As the panic grows, he is back on the streets shooting randomly at drivers of passing cars and anyone else unfortunate enough to be there. Finally, he holes up in a nearby school, concerned only whether his mother and his beloved black Labrador dog have survived his shots, before he puts a bullet through his own head with a handgun.

Jeremy Josephs unfolds the harrowing story through first-hand testimony and personal interviews. Ryan’s family, neighbours, teachers, fellow workers and members of his rifle club, all contribute to the portrait of a man, spoiled by his mother, obsessed by knives and firearms, and living in an elaborately constructed fantasy world. Victims’ loved ones relate their tragic stories and how they cope with the trauma today. Local policemen and the Tactical Firearms Team on duty that day describe the steps they took to take control, not least Sergeant Paul Brightwell, the man who for one hour tried to talk Ryan into giving himself up.

ONE BLOODY AFTERNOON - The Hungerord Massacre is the first book on Michael Ryan and is unlikely to be displaced as the definitive account of the day man a went berserk in a quiet English town.