A taxi driver gunned down 12 people and wounded 25 others before turning the firearm on himself Wednesday during a brazen daytime shooting rampage in northwest England that officials said has shocked locals "to the core."

Police say the suspect in the case, self-employed taxi driver Derrick Bird, began his shooting spree around 10:30 a.m. local time when he gunned down a man in Whitehaven.

He then drove south, apparently shooting people at random in Egremont, Gosforth and Seascale, which are all in the Cumbria region about 560 kilometres northwest of London.

Health service spokesperson Nigel Calvert said three of the eight victims who remain in hospital were in critical condition.

Witnesses described the shooter driving around with a gun hanging out his car window. Among the victims was a woman on a bicycle, a farmer working in his field, and at least two other taxi drivers.

As investigators tracked the shooter, they warned residents to stay indoors. Workers at a local nuclear processing plant were also ordered to remain inside, while the afternoon shift was told to stay away. The plant has since reopened.

Investigators say after he was done shooting, Bird, 52, drove to the Lake District village of Boot, where he abandoned his car. Police recovered his body they found in nearby woods at around 1:40 p.m. local time. Two firearms were found near the body and police say they believe Bird took his own life.

"This has shocked the people of Cumbria, and around the country, to the core," Cumbria Deputy Chief Constable Stuart Hyde told reporters.

Queen Elizabeth II, who seldom comments on news-related events, issued a statement saying that she shared in "the grief and horror of the whole country" and expressed her sympathy for families of those injured or killed in the shooting spree.

Hyde said emergency services workers scrambled to respond to the shootings and were working at 30 different crime scenes. Late Wednesday, they had yet to identify all the victims and notify their families.

Investigators have yet to determine the motive for the shootings, Hyde added, but they were looking into Bird's personal life and his history with firearms to piece together what happened and why.

"Our focus now is on gathering as much evidence as possible to build up a clear picture of exactly what has occurred this morning," Hyde said.

After news of the massacre broke, British Prime Minister David Cameron stood up in the House of Commons to say the government is "alarmed and shocked" by the events in Cumbria, and will do all it can to help the local community.

"When lives and communities are suddenly shattered in this way, our thoughts should be with all those caught up in those tragic events, especially the families and the friends of those who have been killed or injured," Cameron said.

Recalling the shooter

Glenda Pears, who runs L&G Taxis in Whitehaven, said one of the victims was a friend of Bird's.

"They used to stand together having a (laugh) on the rank," Pears said. "He was friends with everybody and used to stand and joke on Duke Street."

A taxi driver named Peter Leder, who knew Bird, said he saw him on Tuesday and recalled that Bird departed with an odd goodbye.

"When he left he said, 'See you Peter, but I won't see you again,"' Leder told Channel 4 News.

John Kane, a local councillor in Whitehaven, told the BBC that the area has one of the lowest crime rates in the U.K., and the shootings have stunned local residents.

"For something like this to happen, it's unreal," Kane said.

Mass shootings are rare in Britain, where gun ownership is tightly restricted and handguns are banned.

Wednesday's rampage was the deadliest mass shooting in the U.K. since 1996, when Thomas Hamilton killed 16 children and a teacher at a kindergarten in Dunblane, Scotland. In 1987, Michael Ryan killed 16 people in the British town of Hungerford.

With files from The Associated Press