Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Terror in Hungerford

The Shooter

Michael Ryan
Michael Ryan
Michael Ryan had just turned 27 that May.   From a working class family, he was an only child, the son of a man noted for being a perfectionist, according to Mass Murderers, and who was 55 when Michael was born.  Ryans mother had worked at the Hungerford Primary School across from their home before becoming a waitress, although she was about to take a new job where she could make better money. 

Relatives said later that Ryan had been a quiet boy, although others remembered him as mostly sullen, avoiding other children and often becoming the butt of jokes.  He was short for his age and refused to defend himself, so others had continued to torment him.

Wounded Innocents and Fallen Angels
Wounded Innocents and Fallen Angels
Dr. Gregory Moffat, a specialist in childhood aggression, writes in Wounded Innocents and Fallen Angels that victims of bullies are often small and weak, and may bring attention to themselves because they fail to fit in.  Theyre generally loners and their lack of confidence becomes something of a homing device for bullies.  However, they dont just take it, as may seem to be the case from their passive acceptance.  Anger builds secretly inside. 

All victims of bullying, Moffatt says, experience shame, guilt, remorse, revenge, anger, and hate.  By themselves, each of these emotions is very powerful, but when they are experienced together, they create a volatile mix if the individual does not have adequate coping resources.  Some victims become bullies themselves, assuming offense as defense.

John O'Gaunt School
John O'Gaunt School

When he was 11, Ryan attended the John OGaunt School, continuing whenever he could to remain part of the woodwork.  His schoolwork was below average and he was often truant, especially after he acquired a motorcycle.  He appeared to have few close friends and did not join in school events that were oriented toward getting kids to become social with one another.

He left that school and entered a technical school when he was 16, intending to apply his efforts toward acquiring the trade of building contractor.  His father was a government building inspector, so he was clearly doing what seemed familiar.  But he was no better at this than at school, so he ended up dropping out and finding a menial job as a caretaker at a girls school.  Whatever he could not afford his mother gave to him, paying for cars, gas, and insurance.  She also gave him his first gun, according to Mass Murderers, an air rifle.

When he was old enough, he bought a shotgun and continued to collect other weapons, keeping them in a gun cabinet in his bedroom (some accounts say in a garden shed).  One relative later mentioned that Ryan had admired the power of guns, and he may have seen in them the very thing he lacked.  In fact, he often bragged about things to make himself look more accomplished than he actually was, and people never knew what to make of his series of lies: he owned a gun shop, he had served in the armed forces, he was getting married.  His imaginary life often spilled over into the way he presented himself to others.  Sometimes his mother even backed him up.  When people did not believe him, he grew angry.

In addition, he adopted a military look, purchasing army jackets, masks and survival gear.  He then persuaded police to give him a license that allowed him to purchase more powerful guns, and since he had no criminal record and no history of mental instability, they had no reason to deny it.  The officer who vetted his records would have reason to regret it.

When Ryan was 25, his elderly father died from cancer, and those who remember the event said that Ryan became emotionally disturbed afterward.  He withdrew and became even more reclusive, going shooting by himself or working on cars, but otherwise not engaging in activities that others were aware of.  He even lost his job, but he had a home with his mother, so the loss of income did not seem to matter to him.  She supported him and gave him whatever he wanted.

A few months before the August incident, Ryan had joined a gun club in Devizes, the Tunnel Rifle and Pistol Club, according to Pantziarka in Lone Wolf, and was unemployed.  He apparently spent a lot of time shooting and was good at it.  He was a very good shot, the club manager remarked to reporters later, noting Ryans consistency at hitting targets from a good distance.  Yet on the morning of August 19, instead of going to the club as usual, he went instead to the forest.  He would later say that he wished he had never gotten out of bed.  His victims may have said the same thing, had they survived.

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