A SHOCKED America plunged into renewed agony over its violent gun culture last night after a disgruntled trader killed 12 people in Atlanta - amongst them his wife and two young children. He was later found dead in his car in another part of the city.
In the second multiple shooting in three months, a middle aged man, Mark Barton, stormed into two brokerage companies in the city's business district where he opened fire with three handguns, killing nine people.
Moments after the shooting, police said they had found the bodies of a women and two children - believed to be the man's wife and children - at the home they shared in a southern suburb of the city.
Police named the man as Mark Barton, aged 44, who was believed to be an aggrieved stock trader. He escaped from the scene of the last shooting, at the Piedmont Center office complex, in the district of Buckhead but was found in his van in Cobb County, another Atlanta suburb, several hours later having committed suicide.
According to eye-witnesses, the man burst into a third floor office suite belonging to the All-Tech Trading Group around 3pm, had a "normal conversation" with the branch manager, then suddenly opened fire. Four people, including a manager and his secretary, were killed. He then crossed into an adjoining Piedmont Center building, shooting apparently indiscriminately, and leaving five people dead.
According to some accounts, Barton prefaced his shooting with disparaging comments on the stock market, which had lost over 200 points in the course of yesterday morning following the release of the first adverse economic figures for almost eight years. One quoted him as saying as he left the trading floor "I hope this won't ruin your trading day."
"We have no idea what caused Mr Barton to begin shooting," police told reporters. The director of All-Tech, Jai Ramoutar, said that Barton had come into the office, "and after speaking with our branch manager suddenly stood up and for no reason opened fire on the manager and his secretary. He then went into our main trading room and began indiscriminately shooting the customers." Both the branch manager and his secretary were killed.
The mayor of Atlanta, Bill Campbell, who had rushed to the scene, said that there was "an awful lot of blood everywhere". The mayor said witnesses told police that Barton was a chemist who began day-trading stocks and "apparently had substantial swings up and down."
He said later: "This has been a long, unspeakable day."
Terrified witnesses, still trapped in their offices by an automatic locking system that had been activated in the plush office block, called local television and radio stations, speaking of their horror and disbelief that such violence could break out in the flourishing district of Buckhead.
Police swamped the normally bustling office area in cars and helicopters, sealing it off, and more than a dozen ambulances sped to the scene. Two hospitals were on stand-by to receive up to 20 victims. Hundreds of officers combed the area for the fugitive gunman.
Named by police within two hours of the shootings, Barton was described as 6ft 4in tall, with receding hair, wearing a red shirt and khaki shorts. According to one report, he made his escape by grabbing a computer from a desk and throwing it out of the otherwise sealed window.
Of the injured, seven had gunshot wounds, and five were described as in "critical" condition. The other five casualties had cuts and bruises, apparently from trying to escape.
If it turns out that the shootings were connected, however tenuously, with the plunge in the US stock market, the killings could have a similarly shattering effect on the American psyche as the Littleton school shootings had, calling into question some of the underlying assumptions about US society and the costs of prosperity.
`I hope this won't ruin your day'; Strange world of day
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