The murder of 12 people by a lone gunman in the Lake District was a “senseless act of evil,” a Catholic bishop has said.
Derrick Bird, a taxi driver, used two rifles to murder his twin brother David and 11 others before he killed himself in remote woodland in a shooting spree in Cumbria.
At least two dozen others were injured in the rampage on Wednesday last week.
Bishop Michael Campbell of Lancaster said he shared “in the profound sense of shock and loss” that so many people felt because of the massacre.
“My prayers, and the prayers of the Catholic community of the Diocese of Lancaster, are with the families and friends of the victims,” he said in a statement hours after the killings. “I especially pray for the souls of the departed.
“You will all be in my prayers over the coming weeks and months as those communities most affected try to come to terms with this senseless act of evil,” he said.
Speaking on Premier Christian Radio the day after the massacre the Augustinian bishop said there were no easy answers to explain the actions of the killer.
“We’re standing here before what they call the mystery of evil,” Bishop Campbell said. “It is unfathomable that someone would perpetrate such horrors on innocent bystanders.”
He added: “In a curious way, such an appalling deed… brings out the goodness and what is the best in people. That will come to the fore as it has done and will in the days ahead. Evil will not have the last word.”
On Sunday the bishop issued a pastoral letter, read out at Masses across the West Cumbria deanery, in which he invited worshippers to pray for the victims. He also showed his sympathy for a community in shock.
He said he wanted to express his “very heartfelt sorrow and pain, and that of the whole Diocese of Lancaster, at the dreadful and tragic events which were inflicted upon you last Wednesday, and with which you are still trying to come to terms”.
He said: “You have my deepest sympathy at this, the worst and most recent tragedy to befall your community, the third in a matter of months.
“Your faith and your endurance are being sorely tried.
“The cruel nature of the deed, which destroyed so many innocent lives and brought injury and heartache to countless others, leaves us numb and confused.
“In the commendably close community that is West Cumbria few of you will have been left untouched or unmoved by the untold suffering and distress of your neighbours.
“Please reassure all who have been innocently and unjustly caught up in this evil spiral that they remain uppermost in the thoughts and prayers of the bishop and Catholics of Lancaster diocese.”
Bishop Campbell offered Mass on Monday in St Begh’s Church, Whitehaven, for the deceased victims, the injured and the bereaved.
Meanwhile, detectives investigating the killings still have not determined the motive.
Police have said some of the shootings appear to have been motivated by personal grudges, while other victims were shot at random. A friend of Bird told journalists that the killer was also worried about going to jail for tax fraud.
Bird was also dropped by his Thai girlfriend a few weeks before the massacre, according to friends.
Bird, 52, a divorced father of two, began his rampage by killing his brother in the hamlet of Lamplugh. He then drove to a Whitehaven taxi stand where he shot three colleagues, killing Darren Rewcastle, 43.
Police in Cumbria said at a news conference that Bird killed 10 of his 12 victims in just over an hour in a 45-mile rampage and that at no stage did officers have an opportunity to stop him.
His victims included the family lawyer Kevin Commons, 60; estate agent Jamie Clark, 23, who was shot in his car; rugby player and farmer Garry Purdham, 31, who was shot as he helped his uncle trim garden hedges; retired couple Jennifer and James Jackson; Susan Hughes, 57, a mother of two shot as she carried her groceries to her home and Michael Pike, 64, who was shot while riding his bicycle.
A number of prayer vigils and religious ceremonies were scheduled to take place on June 5 and 6 to pay tribute to the victims and to pray for them and their families.
Regional leaders from the Catholic, Anglican, Baptist, Methodist and United Reformed Church denominations said in a joint statement: “The community grieves deeply at the losses we have suffered; the confusion and pain will be long-lasting.
“All the churches from across a very wide area have been, and will continue to be, involved in supporting those affected by yesterday’s tragedy,” the statement said.
“The Church will continue to play a longer-term role in providing support and sanctuary to those who need it, and we strongly encourage all churches in the area to make their buildings and people available for people to come and pray, light candles and have someone to talk to,” it said. “Christians in Cumbria and further afield are praying for everyone who has been affected, and are doing everything they can to offer comfort and practical help at a local level.”
Thousands attended open-air prayer vigils throughout the county on Sunday.
The same day Bird’s sons, Graeme, 28, and Jamie, 26, said in a joint statement that their father was the “nicest man you could ever meet” and that they did not know why he had “committed these horrific crimes”.