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Killer's mother learned of gun rampage on TV

The family of Derrick Bird said yesterday that they would like to personally apologise to the families of each of the 12 victims the gunman murdered in Cumbria.

In the first public statement made by Bird's relatives since the shootings on Wednesday morning, his family said they were "mortified" by what had happened but did not know what prompted the rampage.

The Reverend Jim Marshall, reading statements on behalf of Bird's sons, Graeme and Jamie, and his brother Brian, said the only explanation was that Bird had "flipped".

He added that one member of the family had said they "would love to go round to each family of those people killed in order to apologise for what has happened. That is their strength of feeling and they would do it if they had the strength."

Mr Marshall revealed that the surviving members of the Bird family had also found out about the murders as they happened on television, and that they feared they would be his next victims.

He said: "Brian had been tending to his father's grave and was visiting his mother when a neighbour came to explain what was on the news. When they switched on the television and saw what was unfolding they locked all of the doors and windows.

"They thought that Derrick was coming round to finish the rest of the family off."

Mr Marshall also explained that Bird's mother, Mary, was taken into hospital the day after the shootings and remains there to remove her from the media storm which has since engulfed west Cumbria.

He said: "I think her words to me were, 'I don't know what has happened; it is just so awful. I cannot explain it. I cannot take it all in'."

Yesterday, Bird's sons, Graeme and Jamie, said: "We are utterly devastated about the death of our father. To us he was the nicest man you could ever meet... we do not know why our dad committed these horrific crimes."

There was speculation that there would be a joint funeral for Derrick and David Bird. Mr Marshall said the brothers will have separate services but he dismissed talk of a rift and stressed that the family bore no ill will towards Derrick Bird.