He did not hurry and, according to witnesses, hardly spoke except perhaps to tell one local: “Nothing to worry about, mate.” Yet within the space of 12 minutes on a warm August evening, the 22-year-old Jake Davison had murdered five people.
The first was his 51-year-old mother, Maxine Davison. He shot her dead in the home he had shared with her in the suburbs of Plymouth. He then walked out of the front door on to the quiet cul-de-sac, Biddick Drive, and began opening fire, apparently at random.
Davison, an apprentice at the international aerospace, defence and security company Babcock, killed a three-year-old local girl, Sophie Martyn, who happened to be passing by with her 43-year-old adoptive father, Lee Martyn. Next he turned his weapon on a man, 33, and woman, 53, who were injured but survived, before striding into a small park at the end of the cul-de-sac and shooting another man, 59-year-old Stephen Washington, dead.
By now police marksmen were on the scene but Davison had time for one more murder: Kate Shepherd, 66, outside a hair salon. Before police could get to him he had shot himself dead.
Police have said they are keeping an open mind on the motive, but a neighbour and friend of the Davison family said he had fallen out with his mother and they argued over his misogynist views.
The neighbour said: “Maxine and Jake used to be close. You’d always see him helping her with the shopping at Lidl, but they started to clash a lot. Jake was very quiet growing up. He was a troubled soul. He got into guns and he knew everything there was to know about them.”
As day broke on Friday, the people of Plymouth – Devon’s maritime city, a place with a proud naval history and now a popular holiday destination – were reeling. The suburb of Keyham on a hill above the naval dockyard, where many homes fly St George flags, was shocked.
The Labour MP for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport, Luke Pollard, said the last time he had been in Biddick Drive was because of a complaint about an overhanging tree. “It’s the sort of place where everyone knows everyone,” he said.
“The scout hut is a community hub; there’s an active neighbourhood watch. This isn’t a rich area but it’s one that is full of community spirit and warmheartedness. There’s a real sense of sorrow, pain, hurt today but people also want to know what’s happened, how has this happened and why has this happened here.
“People are sharing their stories. This affects not only the friends and families of the victims, it’s the large number of eyewitnesses that saw this take place on their street. This is a decent, safe community. That’s what makes this so very difficult to understand – how could this happen in our community? I think this must be the worst thing to happen to Plymouth since the second world war.”
Devon and Cornwall police emphasised it would take time to unravel what happened in Keyham on Thursday evening and in the buildup to this outburst of violence, with the crime scene covering at least 13 sites. It may be weeks before they fully understand the hows and whys of Davison’s spree.
What is known is that at about 6.11pm Davison burst into the modern redbrick house in Biddick Drive and opened fire on his mother with what is believed to be a pump-action shotgun – the type of weapon usually used in clay pigeon or wildlife shooting. He had a firearms licence, though police are looking at whether it covered the weapon he used.
Police received multiple calls that shots had been fired at the address and armed officers were scrambled to the scene. The police arrived at 6.17pm. The force said it was satisfied with the response time. Because Plymouth is a naval city and thus is a terrorism target, it has armed units on standby, ready to go.
As officers raced to the scene Davison, thought to be wearing dark clothing but no head covering or balaclava, walked back out on to Biddick Drive and shot dead Sophie and Lee Martyn. He also shot and injured the man and woman, who suffered significant and life-changing injuries.
One neighbour claimed he paused briefly to tell a resident: “Nothing to worry about, mate.”
Davison then began walking through the park, popular with dog walkers, where he shot dead Washington. He emerged from the park on to another residential road, Henderson Place. He turned left and shot Shepherd close to a hairdresser’s, Blush. According to some witnesses she had just walked out of the salon.
The gunman then turned his weapon on himself, dying at 6.23pm as armed offices closed in on him. It is not clear if he knew any of the six people he shot outside, but he is not believed to have been related to any of them.
He must have fired at least 10 shots, police believe. He almost certainly had to stop and reload a number of times.
Police evacuated nearby homes and went door-to-door to check there were no other victims or any hidden shooters.
Witnesses described the horror. One neighbour who lives a few yards from Biddick Drive, who asked not to be named, said: “We heard the shots and dived back into the house. The police told us to stay indoors so that’s exactly what we did. There were armed police everywhere, chasing around trying to find him. It was like something out of the wild west.”
Caitlin Greyling, an 18-year-old student, saw the aftermath of Davison’s final killing. “They were trying to resuscitate a woman outside the hair salon,” she said. “I think she had just come out of it. Then they stopped, it looked as if they couldn’t do any more. It’s so shocking.”
Rosemary Watts, 51, told how she dashed to another park and cleared it of children. “There was this bloke running around and children playing in the park nearby. Just terrible,” she said.
At a press conference, the chief constable of Devon and Cornwall police, Shaun Sawyer, explained that while the shooting was not being treated as terrorism, the force was keeping an open mind. “We believe we have an incident that is domestically related, that has spilled into the street,” he said.
Sawyer conceded there would be inquiries about the police’s response and previous dealings it had with the killer, including the issuing of his firearms licence. He said he could not go into details of Davison’s mental health at this stage but added: “This is an extraordinarily unusual response by a fellow human being.”
Katherine Richards, who left flowers near one of the police cordons, said: “I heard the gunshots. It was terrifying. Honestly. At first I thought it was thunder and then I heard two more thunder shots and I thought that’s not thunder, someone’s being hurt.
“Nothing like this has ever happened here. I am shocked to my core. I’m just devastated for the families and everyone involved, especially for that little girl who never got to live her life.”
Nick McKinnel, the bishop of Plymouth, said people were feeling a mixture of sadness, grief, horror. “As I walked around the police cordon, it was very quiet. People are feeling a sense of bewilderment.”
He said what happened would leave a scar. “People have seen terrible things. We will need long-term healing. We can’t rush into solutions or answers. You think of all the pain that must have lain behind what happened and all the pain that lies ahead.”