‘Twenty Miles of Terror’ in Small-town Alabama Rampage

SAMSON ~ In 60 minutes of horror, a former Alabama policeman who once played on a local baseball team went on a deadly rampage that tore this rural community apart, then locked it together in grief.

Armed to the hilt with two assault rifles, a shotgun and pistol, and several ammunition magazines taped together, 28-year-old Michael McLendon embarked on a killing spree on Tuesday that left 10 people dead, including his mother and grandmother, and six others injured before he killed himself.

“This was the single deadliest crime recorded in Alabama,” the state’s director of public safety Chris Murphy told a press conference.

“We are all shocked and grieved by these events.”

Compounding the disbelief: people who knew him called him an upstanding citizen who caused no trouble, while McLendon was described by a former employer, Kelley Foods of Alabama, as a “reliable team member.”

Indeed, the assailant had no criminal record, police have not identified a motive, and to officials and residents alike, the shootings are simply inexplicable.

State Senator Harri Anne Smith, who said she knew one of the victims, described it as “20-something miles of terror through my district.”

“Not a lot goes on in this rural community that you don’t hear about real quick,” Smith told reporters.

When she called Geneva County Sherrif Greg Ward minutes after the first shots in Samson, the response was chilling: “Senator, I’ve got a huge problem. Send help.”

Shortly before 3:30pm on Tuesday, McLendon, who one week earlier abruptly quit his assembly-line job at Kelley Foods, walked into the home he lived in with his mother in Kinston, shot her in the head, set her body ablaze and burned down the house, police said.

He then drove his red Mitsubishi past bucolic farmland to nearby Samson, where he shot and killed his uncle, his two cousins, and the wife and 18-month-old daughter of local sheriff’s deputy Josh Myers as they sat on the front porch of his uncle’s home

McLendon walked next door and murdered his 74-year-old grandmother, then got in his car again and shot and killed one pedestrian and injured another.

At the Inland Gas Station in Samson, he killed a 43-year-old woman, then headed east on route 52, where he shot and killed a motorist before Alabama troopers put their lives on the line, engaging the gunman and coming under withering fire.

Geneva Police Chief Frankie Lindsey was shot in the shoulder, but continued pursuit until the gunman was cornered at 4:17 pm (2117 GMT) at a Reliable Products factory where McLendon once worked.

After a shootout, McLendon fled inside, where police found him dead with a self-inflicted wound.

Signs of the grisly massacre along route 52 were still visible Wednesday: police chalk marks on the road surface, and the smashed up vehicles of private citizens who had tried in vain to bring McLendon’s car to a halt.

Many businesses, including a hardware store whose windows were shot out, were shuttered in Samson, where small groups of people gathered to comfort one another.

At the Dollar General store, visitors and employees buried their faces in one another’s shoulders, mourning employee James Starling, 24, who was gunned down on the street.

“He got shot for no reason, just crossing the road,” Koren Garcia, a close friend of Starling, told AFP as she fought back tears. “Never have we had anything happen like this … It’s just a horrible ordeal.”

Reports have emerged that police found a hit list at McLendon’s home with the names of employers or people who had wronged him, but residents and local officials have struggled to comprehend what happened.

“None of this makes any sense to me,” Samson Mayor Clay King said. “It’s like getting hit in the gut unexpectedly.”

King had once coached McLendon in baseball, Senator Smith said.

Samson resident Wayland Tharp worked with McLendon years ago at a local bakery. “He used to be a very quiet, very reserved individual … He wasn’t someone who caused trouble; he’d get the job done and had a good attitude,” Tharp said.

Police said McLendon had been employed briefly in 2003 as a police officer in Samson, a town of about 2,500, but failed to complete required training.

Alabama state trooper Kevin Cook hoped the communities would rebound.

“It’s going to be a rebuilding process. It’s going to take some time, a lot of prayer,” Cook said.

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