Gunman Kills 8, Self in Florida Car Loan Office
A man apparently distraught over the repossession of his car walked into a finance office here Monday morning and began spraying customers and employees with gunfire, killing eight and critically wounding five before fatally shooting himself.
Police later said they had “confirmed” that the same man was responsible for gunning down a man and woman on a Jacksonsville street 33 hours earlier.
The gunman was identified as James E. Pough, a 42-year-old day laborer from Jacksonville who had been convicted of aggravated assault in 1971.
Richard Langille, a General Motors Acceptance Corp. employee, said fellow office workers dived under desks when the first of at least 30 shots rang out in Monday’s attack.
“And then we realized the guy was pointing his gun underneath people’s desks and killing them one by one,” Langille said. “I just saw the bottom of the carpet and just prayed.”
Some of the wounded were shot seven or eight times each, hospital spokesmen said.
“There’s a lot of trauma being experienced here today,” Sheriff James E. McMillan said. “In my 25 years of police work, I’ve never seen any scene as awful as I saw this morning.”
On a clear, sunny morning in this city of 800,000, Pough apparently drove from his home to the GMAC offices south of downtown. He walked in the front door about 10:45 a.m. and “began shooting people execution style” as he moved toward the back, according to McMillan.
“He didn’t say anything, he just walked in and started indiscriminately shooting,” McMillan said.
Pough apparently was not looking for anyone in particular but just fired rifle bursts at anyone he saw, McMillan said. One woman was hit seven times in the chest.
Six of the eight victims were women. All but one worked for GMAC.
Pough was armed with a .30-caliber semiautomatic rifle and .38-caliber revolver. In addition to a 30-round ammunition clip found nearly empty in the rifle, he had two full clips in his pocket, police said.
Police recovered 28 spent rifle shells at the scene.
“He apparently turned the (revolver) on himself when he saw no more victims,” McMillan said. He added that 86 people worked in the GMAC office, most of whom ran in terror out the back door.
In January, GMAC repossessed a red 1988 Pontiac on which Pough had missed payments. He later acquired a 1977 Buick, in which he drove to the scene of the massacre.
The revolver was registered to Pough, as was a .357 magnum handgun found later in his house.
Pough was arrested in 1971 in Duval County on a charge of homicide but was never convicted. In July of 1971, he was given five years’ probation on a charge of aggravated assault, according to Florida Department of Corrections records.
The 1971 court records show that adjudication would be withheld after his probation period, meaning that Pough would not have a record in that case if he obeyed the terms of probation. That meant he could legally possess a gun.
In the trunk of Pough’s car, police found a 9-millimeter machine pistol.
The shootings early Sunday took place two blocks from where Pough lived alone in the top floor of a two-story apartment building in a low-income area of Jacksonville.
The victims, Louis Carl Bacon, 39, and Doretta Drake, 30, were walking through a northwest section of Jacksonville. Although ballistics tests had not confirmed that the murder weapon was the same in all the shootings, the description of the gunman matched Pough.
McMillan said the man and woman killed early Sunday were a pimp and a prostitute and that Pough “may have felt cheated” in a sex-for-hire deal.
In Pough’s neighborhood Monday, neighbors expressed disbelief that the man they called “Pop” could have exploded in such violence.
Mary Trapp, 79, who lives directly across the street from Pough’s apartment, said: “He surprised all of us. I would wave to him, I would treat him like a son, and he would treat me like I was his mother.”
Trapp said Pough had lived in the neighborhood for about 10 years.
She said she remembers when he got the new Pontiac. “I said: ‘Pop, you got yourself a car for Christmas.’ Then it disappeared.” Later she said Pough began driving the older Buick.
Other neighbors described Pough as a respectable man, a man who kept to himself, occasionally talking sports, particularly about the Los Angeles Dodgers. One man who refused to give his name, said he occasionally saw Pough at the dog races.
In a neighborhood where violence and drug dealing are common, Pough was seen as peaceable. One man said of Pough: “He didn’t seem like a weirdo. He was a common man.”
One of those killed at the GMAC office was Lee M. Simonton, 33. His wife, Deborah, said her husband died at the hospital about two hours after being shot several times and despite being given 40 units of blood. “The only thing you can do is believe that the Lord knows more than we do,” she said. The were married for 12 years; she is left with two children.
In addition to Pough and Simonton, the dead were identified as Drew Woods, 38; Denise Highfill, 36; Janice David, 40; Sharon Louise Hall, 45; Barbara Duckwall Holland, 45; Julia White Burgess, 42, and Cynthia Perry, 30. All but Burgess and Pough were GMAC employees.
The wounded were Ron Ecchevaria, 49; Jewel Belote, 50; Nancy Dill, 31; Phyllis Griggs, 42, and David Hendrix, 25.
Investigators were trying to interview witnesses but McMillan said they were “all in a state of shock, understandably.”
The death total matched the worst single-day episode in Florida, a 1982 massacre at a Miami machine shop where nine died and three were wounded.
Florida is among a handful of states that have made significant recent changes to their gun laws. Last year, the state approved background checks for all dealer gun sales beginning in 1991 and has placed a constitutional amendment on the 1990 ballot calling for a three-working-day waiting period for the purchase of handguns.
Florida lawmakers also passed a child accident prevention bill that requires gun owners to store loaded firearms under lock and key away from children’s reach.