Killer's cheerful wave goodbye on mission to mass slaughter

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Thomas Hamilton left his home in Stirling an hour and a half before he entered Dunblane primary school. A car arrived to pick him up and, according to neighbour Kathleen Kerr, 71, he waved: "He just seemed cheerful and perfectly happy."

On his way he calmly stopped to post copies of bitterly resentful letters, originally sent to MPs and even the Queen, to the media. He did so knowing they would come to public attention hours after he slaughtered a class full of children.

At around 9.25am Hamilton arrived at the gate of the school,armed with four guns and wearing the ear defenders. He started shooting almost the second he entered. What happened next turned the school all into a small corner of hell.

By the time Hamilton had made his way through the main school office the assembly hall was empty. Ten minutes earlier the hall had been packed. Police sources said yesterday they believed Hamilton's target may have been not just the gymnasium but the entire school.

Everyone knew something was happening when Hamilton first came in. As he passed the school office, making his way eventually to the gymnasium, teachers have told police he began firing down the corridor and into classrooms along his way.

Eleven-year-old Laura Bryce was sitting in a classroom just feet away from the PE hall. She and her classmates cowered at the sound of gunfire. She recalled that Hamilton looked into her classroom as he went past, saw movement "and just shot".

Children cowered and clung to each other for comfort. "The bullets came through the windows and doors. One went through a friend's chair," she said. "I thought we weren't going to see each other again. We were very scared."

Hamilton burst into the gymnasium, his first sight Eileen Harrild, the school's 43-year-old PE teacher. In front of her were the pupils of Primary One. According to her husband Tony it was only seconds after Hamilton had burst into the gym that he began taking aim and firing.

According to the account given to Mr Harrild by his wife, Hamilton shot her twice before breaking into a run around the large hall and shooting. He said his wife was the first person he had fired at: "She instinctively put her hands up in front of her body to protect herself - it saved her life."

Of the two bullets that hit the PE teacher one went through her left arm and one through her right arm. One of the bullets also went through her breast. "He must have been very close to her when he fired because she was speaking to the class at the time," he said.

Through a window Laura Bryce saw Hamilton standing in the corner as children "were dashing about screaming. He was wearing black earmuffs and a big black cap. He was the kind of man you have nightmares about", she said.

Only five-year-old Robbie Hurst escaped unscathed, though the mental scars he bears will take a lifetime to heal. Robbie watched as Hamilton burst into the hall, his largest target teacher Gwenne Mayor. and opened fire, killing her instantly.

He then set about slaughtering her charges. Hamilton stood in a corner and fired repeatedly as the children huddled together in terror. As others ran he chased and gunned them down, apparently determined to slaughter every one.

Robbie pushed his friend Kevin Hassell and another boy into an alcove as their fellow pupils scattered is a desperate search for shelter.

Stuart Weir, another child, was shot in the leg as he ran for his life. Hamilton spotted him and fired, hitting him below the knee. A little boy near him was hit in the ankle.

Only when sixteen of them were dead and all of them, apparently, shot was Hamilton satisfied. Little bodies lay in piles dotted around the room, strewn amid items of children's clothing, shoes and pumps.

Hamilton either kicked open or pushed open the fire exit doors and left the hall, firing randomly at other classrooms.No more than five minutes later he put one of the guns he was so proud of to his head and pulled the trigger.

Teachers began gathering up the whimpering, terrified children. They ran back and forth, covered in blood, trying to tend the wounded.

They found Robbie Hurst, spattered with blood, under the bodies of his friends. He was deeply shocked, but rescued from what the first ambulanceman to arrive described as a "medieval vision of hell".

One boy of about five was sitting on the floor, pointing at a bullet hole in his arm, too shocked to cry.

Fifteen minutes after the slaughter, Laura's teacher ushered her class into a cloakroom where sobbing youngsters hugged each other. For their parents the nightmare was just beginning.