Suspect in co-worker's beheading was recently released from probation

Suspect in beheading at food plant received early release from probation

A man suspected of beheading a woman he worked with and stabbing another was a convicted felon who had been released from probation this year, Oklahoma corrections officials confirmed Thursday.

Alton Nolen, 30, was released from probation in April, earlier than the original 2017 date, said Jerry Massie, a spokesman for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections.

Nolen has a string of convictions from 2011, including marijuana possession, escape from detention, assault and battery on a police officer and possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, according to records from state corrections officials.

FBI and police in Moore, Okla., are investigating the incident, which occurred at about 4 p.m. Thursday at the Vaughan Foods plant, Sgt. Jeremy Lewis of the Moore Police Department told The Times on Friday. Nolen was shot during the attack and is hospitalized, according to authorities.

He said police responded to a call reporting that a man, later identified by police as Nolen, was attacking employees inside the business and that shots had been fired.

Audio: Listen to the 911 call

When they arrived, he said, officers found that one woman, identified as Colleen Hufford, 54, had been beheaded. Another woman, 43-year-old Traci Johnson, suffered knife wounds and was transported to a local hospital, where she was listed in stable condition Friday.

Police said Nolen had been fired from Vaughan Foods shortly before the attack. Witnesses told officers that Nolen had recently been trying to convert several employees to Islam, but it was not clear whether that was why he was fired, authorities said.

According to the department’s database, Nolen had  “Jesus Christ” tattooed across his chest, an image of praying hands on his right arm and “As-salaamu Ataikum,” tattooed on his stomach, which could be a misspelling of “As-salaamu Alaikum,” a standard Muslim greeting that means “Peace be upon you.”

After he was dismissed in a different part of the property, police said, Nolen drove his car to the front, ramming it into another car. Authorities said he then entered the front office and killed Hufford, before turning to attack Johnson.

According to Moore City Manager Steve Eddy, the knife recovered at the scene is the same type used on the production floor of the plant, where Nolen worked.

A 911 call released by Moore police Friday afternoon shows some of the chaos that unfolded in the plant. “We can hear a lot of screaming,” said one man who told a dispatcher he was in a nearby office. “We know that he’s loose, he has stabbed someone.”

“Lock everybody in there if you can,” the dispatcher told the caller, right before gunshots rang out in the background.

“We’ve got gunshots!” the dispatcher said, as the caller reported hearing someone yelling in a hallway to stay down.

Mark Vaughan, the company’s founder, chief operating officer and a reserve sheriff’s deputy, was on site at the time and shot Nolen, stopping the attack before police arrived, Lewis said.

Vaughan has been a reserve officer with the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office since 2010, officials there said, and is a “highly trained member of the tactical team.”

Lewis called Vaughan a hero and credited the reserve officer with saving the second woman’s life. “This guy [Nolen] definitely was not going to stop. He didn’t stop until he was shot,” Lewis told reporters at a press conference Friday. Lewis said Vaughan intervened “within seconds” of the attack. “We would have had a lot more victims,” Lewis said.

Lewis told reporters that it appeared Nolen had attacked both women at random.

The company was “shocked and deeply saddened” by the attack, Vaughan Foods spokesman Danielle Katcher said in a statement. The company says it will be providing counseling and support for its employees, and are cooperating with authorities in the investigation.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of the team member we lost and all those affected,” Katcher said. “Our focus is on the safety and well-being of our employees.”

Nolen and Johnson, the other victim, were taken to a hospital and listed in stable condition, according to police, who said the FBI was assisting with the investigation.

Lewis said Nolen had undergone surgery Thursday night and was recovering, but investigators were with him and planned to speak to him as soon as he was coherent enough to talk.

Moore, about 10 miles south of Oklahoma City, was devastated in 2013 by a tornado that killed almost two dozen people.

"It's a very traumatic thing, it would be for any community, whether or not it had gone through a tornado," Eddy, the city manager, told The Times by phone. "It's just a very sad situation that something could come down to this."

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times


2:34 p.m.: This story has been updated to include comments from a spokeswoman for Vaughan Foods

1:17 p.m.: This story has been updated to reflect information about Nolen's criminal history, and comments from Moore Police spokesman Sgt. Jeremy Lewis.

This story was originally published at 11:32 a.m.