Santa Claus gunman kills six in his family before taking own life

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US police say the man they believe carried out a Christmas Day shooting that left him and six members of his extended family dead was dressed as Santa Claus.

Police spokesman Sgt Robert Eberling said the shooter showed up in the Santa outfit and was a member of the family opening gifts in an apartment in the town of Grapevine, near Fort Worth, Texas.

Sgt Eberling said the identity of the man and the victims will be released after autopsies are conducted.

Police went to the Lincoln Vineyards apartment complex on Christmas Day after receiving an emergency call in which no one was on the other line. They found four women and three men, aged 18 to 60, dead.

The apparent murder-suicide involves the first homicides in Grapevine since June 2010.

Two handguns were found near the bodies in the apartment that was decorated for Christmas with a tree. “It appears they had just celebrated Christmas. They had opened their gifts,” Sgt Eberling said.

Lt Todd Dearing of Grapevine police said officers were performing a “meticulous” search of the apartment and he expected them to be on the scene for many hours. Police went into the apartment, in a middle-class, suburban neighbourhood of Grapevine, not far from Colleyville, Fort Worth.

The apartment is at the back of the complex, overlooking the athletics fields of Colleyville Heritage High School. Many of the nearby apartments are vacant and police said no neighbours reported hearing anything on Christmas morning when many people were not around.