`Hungerford children were haunted by gunman's ghost'

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The Independent Online
Now another small provincial town, this time in the heart of rural France, has its own version of the ghost of Michael Ryan.

The survivors of Hungerford, particularly those who lost close relatives when Ryan wandered the town in 1987 bedecked with assault weapons and killed 16 before turning his gun on himself, know that the pain never recedes.

After Hungerford, hard lessons were learnt. The phenomena of the crazed psychopath was not new: in 1984 in the US, 41-year-old Oliver Huberty walked into a McDonald's hamburger restaurant and killed 20 people before being shot dead by police. But Britain had never suffered such inexplicable carnage.

Hungerford threw everything at an invisible enemy. The clergy worked unending overtime; social services one year after the killings still had 80 workers involved in counselling. Psychologists encouraged openness and a public display of grief. But the wounds were not healed.

In 1988 the town play had stars instead of angels. As one inhabitant said: "Angels are dead. No one wants to be dead around here." But children were haunted by Ryan's ghost; they told psychologists he was still alive, a bogeyman "who will one day just jump out and get me".

There were other victims. The police hero of the day of the massacre, Christopher Larkin, gassed himself in a car last year. He had tried to lure his girlfriend into a suicide pact. The coroner, Anne Pember, said he "was seriously affected by the massacre". A former policeman who served alongside him said: "He never got over it - like a lot of us. I'm still seeing a psychiatrist myself from time to time.''

On the first anniversary of the shootings the village was strangely quiet. Many residents, still in counselling, could not face an anniversary. Tony Stacey, co-ordinator of the teams of social workers, counsellors, volunteers and charity groups, said: "There were no explanations people could have, which meant people felt guilt and wondered whether they could have done something.''

The main anger, as Hungerford was surprised to learn, was that Michael Ryan had deprived them of a target for their anger by shooting himself.

In Cuers the tears are still flowing; the blood has yet to be cleared from the leafy pavements. But the shock it is suffering will be relived in the months to come.