17 SLAIN IN SCOTTISH SCHOOL GYM\Gunman kills kindergartners, teacher in Scotland.
A disgraced boys club leader with a passion for guns carried four pistols into a Scottish country school and methodically shot to death 16 kindergartners and a teacher Wednesday.
The gunman, a 43-year-old loner nurturing dark, hidden grievances, then killed himself at the elementary school in Dunblane, a pretty town of 9,000 people on the edge of the Scottish Highlands.
Only one 5-year-old escaped injury or death among the 29 children playing in the gymnasium when Thomas Hamilton strode in from the playground at about 9:30 a.m. and began firing.
The dead children - 11 girls and five boys - were ages 5 and 6. Two other teachers and 12 children were injured, including a 5-year-old in critical condition with a gunshot wound to the chest.
The massacre, the worst by gunfire in modern-day Britain, devastated this 13th century cathedral town, which straddles a meandering river in a bucolic area 35 miles northwest of Edinburgh.
"Just now to most people this is a nightmare," said school board member Gerry McDermott. "But they will not wake up from it."
Five-year-old Stewart Weir may never forget - he knew the man with guns was after him. Stewart got away with a bullet-grazed leg, and was able to tell his dad about it.
"Stewart said he thought the gunman was shooting at him," Robert Weir said after comforting the boy in hospital.
"He got hit in the leg, so he took a run and just hid with another wee girl. It is lucky the man turned the gun on himself before he got the rest of the kids."
Panic-stricken men and women rushed to the 700-pupil Dunblane Primary School, frantically looking for their children, others clutching their sons and daughters in relief.
"All our thoughts are with the parents whose children have been killed or injured," said Brian Owen as he led his young son, Stuart, from the school. "I am lucky because my children are OK."
Chief Constable William Wilson said Hamilton was armed with four handguns when he burst through the school's front entrance, headed along a passageway past the dining room to the gymnasium, where the smallest children were having a class.
"This is a slaughter of the innocents, unlike anything we have ever seen in Scotland, and I think Scotland is going to have to come to terms with it," said Helen Liddell, a Scottish member of Parliament with the opposition Labor Party.
Guns are much more difficult to obtain in Britain than in the United States, and massacres are rare.
The death toll was even higher than the last massacre to shock Britain, in August 1987, when 27-year-old Michael Ryan, an unemployed loner and gun enthusiast, shot 16 people, then killed himself in the quiet market town of Hungerford.
Hamilton was a Scout leader in Stirling in the early 1970s, and was expelled for what the Boy Scouts Association called "complaints about unstable and improper behavior following a Scout camp."
News reports said he wrote to Queen Elizabeth II about his problems trying to revive a boys club he ran after leaving the Boy Scouts.
In London, a Buckingham Palace spokesman said the queen recently received a letter from a Mr. Hamilton but refused to say whether it was from the killer.
David Urquhart, 13, said he and several friends had attended Hamilton's Stirling Rovers athletic club for boys 9-14, but left because he frightened them.
"In the gym hall he wanted to film me doing a flip," Urquhart told the Associated Press. "At the end I had to stand to attention with my ribs sticking out. He used to take photos of people all the time. He always told us to take our tops off."
Hamilton lived in public housing in Stirling, five miles from Dunblane, and neighbors said he was a solitary individual whose hobbies were photography and shooting.
"He was deep, a cautious kind of man," a neighbor, Grace Ogilvie, said. "He told me that he took young boys on holiday to Loch Lomond."
Queen Elizabeth sent a sympathy message to the victims, who included the kindergartners' teacher, Gwenne Mayor, 45: "I share the grief and horror of the whole country."
(1) A mother grieves at the tragedy in Dunblane, Scotland. (2) Sixteen children from this class at Dunblane Primary School and their teacher, Gwenne Mayor, were slain. Associated Press