LONDON – British parliamentarian and advocate for the U.K. to remain in the European Union Jo Cox, was shot dead on Thursday as she met constituents, shocking much of the world and temporarily silencing the rancorous debate about membership of the 28-nation bloc.
It was the first killing of a member of Parliament in more than two decades, since the days of Irish Republican terrorism. All campaigning in the referendum, just a week away, was suspended.
Cox’s death led to the suspension all campaigning in a referendum, just a week away on “Brexit”, where the U.K. will vote on the country’s EU membership.
Cox was killed outside the venue for one of her regular sessions at which constituents in the town of Birstall can seek advice and help.
â€œJo was attacked by a man who inflicted serious and, sadly, ultimately fatal injuries,â€ West Yorkshire Policeâ€™s temporary chief constable, Dee Collins, said in a televised news conference in Wakefield. The Press Association, the U.K.â€™s national newswire, reported that Cox was shot twice and stabbed.
Eyewitnesses speaking to the BBC described her attacker as having a gun heâ€™d fashioned himself.
Collins said police had arrested 52-year-old Thomas Mair and werenâ€™t looking for anyone else. They recovered a number of weapons including a firearm, she said.
His brother, Scott, 49 said Thomas was a ‘loner’ with history of mental health problems.
Scott Mair told reporters he had wept when he heard about the killing of Mrs Cox.
He said: â€œI am struggling to believe what has happened. My brother is not violent and is not all that political. I donâ€™t even know who he votes for. He has a history of mental illness, but he has had help.â€
Visibly shaking, he added: â€œI cried when I heard.I am so sorry for her and her family.â€
Kathleen Cooke, 62, said: “I am really shocked. He walked past my house this morning and said hello like he always does. He was wearing a grey T shirt and his white baseball cap like he always does and he was carrying a small rucksack.
“He is just a quiet bloke who keeps himself to himself. “He is very helpful and he helps local people with their gardens. There is one neighbour who is a bit frail and he keeps her garden tidy. He has helped me cut my hedge a couple of times.
“He has lived here for 40 years and has never been in any trouble and has never caused any trouble. He sometimes used to shout at the local kids if they played too near his house but that is fairly normal.
Prime Minister David Cameron said in a televised statement. â€œWeâ€™ve lost a great star, Jo was a great campaigning MP with huge compassion and a big heart.â€
The U.S. State Department spokesman began his briefing on Thursday by saying his government is appalled by the killing.
Gabrielle Giffords, the former U.S congresswoman from Arizona who was shot in the head in 2011, issued a statement saying she and her husband grieved for Coxâ€™s friends and family and described the killing as â€a manifestation of a coarseness in our politics and hatred toward the other that we must not tolerate.â€
The last member of Parliament to be killed was Ian Gow, who was murdered by an Irish Republican Army bomb at his home in Sussex in 1990.