A gunman shot and killed eight people before firing on law enforcement officers and hitting a police helicopter on Tuesday in a thickly wooded area of south-central Virginia, a state police official said.
Late Tuesday, state police officers said that they thought they had the gunman, whom they identified as Christopher Speight, 39, surrounded in the woods and that he was still alive.
Seven bodies were found in one house, the authorities said, and the eighth victim was found by the side of the road and died on the way to the hospital.
All the victims were adults, the police said.
A state police official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the investigation, said two of the victims were thought to be the wife and the son of the gunman. He would not give other details.
Gov. Robert F. McDonnell of Virginia said he was sending his secretary of public safety, Marla Decker, to the scene to join the deputy secretary, John Buckovich, and Col. Steven Flaherty, superintendent of the State Police.
“This is a horrific tragedy,” Mr. McDonnell’s office said in a statement. “The governor’s thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families.”
Officers were called to the scene in Appomattox County at 12:02 p.m. after receiving a report that a man lying in the middle of the road needed urgent medical attention, Sgt. Thomas Molnar of the State Police said.
But when the police arrived, chaos ensued. Officers were fired on by a man hiding in the woods, the authorities said, and a helicopter hovering overhead was hit four times in and around its fuel tank, forcing it to make an emergency landing nearby. No officers were hurt, the authorities said.
Police dispatchers alerted a local school to go on lockdown, and businesses closed as more officers raced to the scene. Two homes were evacuated, and soon more than 100 officers formed a perimeter around the suspect, who they said they thought was hiding in a wooded area between Police Tower Road and Snapps Mill Road just outside the town of Appomattox.
Police officers were seen at 3030 Snapps Mill Road, which neighbors said is home to a family of four, according to local television reports.
Appomattox, which is about 100 miles west of Richmond, is best known as the place where Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered to end the Civil War.
Bethel Hawkins, who lives about two miles from the shooting scene, said the police had warned families to lock their doors. “We’re just being cautious, keeping our doors locked, not going outside,” Mr. Hawkins said, adding: “We’re not going out in the dark not knowing what’s out there. But we trust in the Lord to take care of us.”