Grudge Over Soured Deal May Have Led to Rampage : Crime: Mortgage broker carried a list of targets, but those shot in San Francisco high-rise were not on it.
The security guards figured he was just another well-heeled lawyer. He wore a dark suit with suspenders, carried an attache case and towed a large leather bookcase strapped to a dolly.
But when his elevator stopped on the 34th floor, Gian Luigi Ferri slung two guns over his shoulders, grabbed a satchel full of ammunition and headed straight for the conference room of the law firm of Pettit & Martin, where he shot four people he had never met, who happened to be there by a fluke.
Possibly enraged over a 10-year-old grievance with the law firm, Ferri then rampaged through three floors of the sleek downtown high-rise for 15 minutes, shooting lawyers, secretaries and a client without speaking a word. Trapped by police in a locked stairwell, he finally capped his mission of vengeance by firing a bullet through his own head.
Ferri, 55, killed eight people and wounded six, making his one of the bloodiest crimes in San Francisco history. Among the dead were a young, newlywed attorney who saved his wife’s life by shielding her with his body, and a law student from Colorado interning at Pettit & Martin for the summer.
Sources said Ferri, a beefy mortgage broker with offices in Woodland Hills and the Bay Area, carried a list of “targets” he believed responsible for his misfortune--an Indiana real estate deal from the 1980s gone bad.
Police said none of those shot were on his list, but they would not confirm Ferri’s apparent motive, or even whether he had a connection with the firm. A senior attorney said that the gunman walked past the offices of several people on the list.
On Friday, about 100 workers from Pettit & Martin underwent stress counseling as police continued their investigation and the first details emerged about the horror that paralyzed the city’s financial district for six hours a day earlier.
“There were a lot of tears, a lot of emotion,” said legal secretary Elizabeth Newark, her voice still shaky. “The dead, the wounded--it’s just not an easy thing (to cope with).”
Newark was at ground zero when Ferri began his methodical march along the circular corridors of Pettit & Martin, a full-service firm that employs 88 lawyers in San Francisco and has struggled financially in recent years.
By her account, Ferri stepped off the elevator, turned left, marched toward a large conference room known as 34-D, and sprayed gunfire through its glass wall.
“I heard an appalling noise--bang, bang, bang--and thought some idiot had set off fireworks in there,” Newark recalled. Then came a scream, and just as her finger punched the first digit of 911, Newark saw Ferri appear in the corridor, walking “very purposefully” and looking her straight in the eye.
“His eyes went over me, my boss screamed for me to get out, and I ran,” Newark said, theorizing that she may have been spared because “I have white hair.”
The four people in Conference Room 34-D were not so lucky. Involved in a deposition for a wrongful firing case, they were borrowing the conference room for the afternoon. None of them worked for the Pettit & Martin firm.
Jody Jones Sposato, 30, of Lafayette, Calif., was one of the first to die. She was suing Electronic Data Systems--Ross Perot’s former company--for sexual harassment and wrongful termination.
Also killed was her attorney, Jack Berman, 35, a lawyer with Bronson, Bronson & McKinnon and the father of a 1-year-old son. “He was a rising star in this law firm,” said a fellow attorney, Gil Diekmann. “It’s a real tragic loss.”
Sharon Jones O’Roke, an EDS attorney who had come from Plano, Tex., to take Sposato’s deposition, was critically wounded. Deanne Eaves, 33, a court reporter from nearby Richmond, was shot in the arm as she scrambled to hide under a chair.
By this time, the building’s managers were using the public address system to warn tenants of an unspecified emergency and advise them to lock their office doors.
Apparently unperturbed by the broadcasts, Ferri continued his march, swiveling his head from side to side in a search for targets and wielding three weapons--a .45-caliber Colt semiautomatic pistol and two 9-millimeter TEC-9 Luger semiautomatic pistols. He carried more than 600 rounds of ammunition, loaded in clips.
Walking along the firm’s inner passageway, Ferri found two more victims trapped helplessly in a glass-walled cage--partner Allen J. Berk, who headed the firm’s labor department, and associate Brian Berger.
Ferri again fired through the glass, killing Berk, a nationally known specialist in labor law, and wounding Berger. Despite his wounds, Berger telephoned to another floor, warning his colleagues about the gunman and urging them to call 911.
As he sprayed gunfire into the walls and ceiling, panicked workers huddled behind filing cabinets, cowered under desks, barricaded themselves in locked offices, and--though terrified they might encounter the gunman--crammed into elevators.
“It was a terrible decision--do I take the stairs and risk meeting him in there, or do I get on the elevator and risk him getting in with me?” said one Pettit & Martin secretary from the 35th floor who spoke on condition she not be identified. “I picked the elevator. Let me tell you it was a long ride down.”
At one point, Ferri hesitated by a desk beneath which a lawyer was hiding, then descended a set of interior stairs to the 33rd floor, grabbing new rounds of ammunition from his black bag as he went. Along the way he shed his suit coat, revealing two shoulder harnesses and a holster for the .45.
On the 33rd floor, Ferri killed John Scully, 28, a popular lawyer who joined the firm in 1991. Scully had heard gunfire and set off to find his wife, Michelle, 27, a lawyer with another firm who was using the library and conference room on the 33rd floor.
Scully, a lanky native of Hawaii, found his wife. But as the newlywed couple rushed to leave they ran right into the gunman, who began to shoot. Shielding his wife with his body, Scully was shot to death; Michelle Scully was wounded in the chest and shoulder. She left the hospital Friday night.
“They were devoted to each other,” said Tom Bertrand, a partner in the firm of Bertrand, Fox & Elliot, where Michelle Scully worked. “They had their whole lives ahead of them.”
As the couple lay bleeding on the floor, Ferri walked past them in the hallway but did not shoot again.
Continuing his hunt on the 33rd floor, the gunman also shot and killed David Sutcliffe, 30, a law student at the University of Colorado who was working for the summer at Pettit & Martin.
From there Ferri headed downstairs to the 32nd floor, which the law firm shares with other businesses. Entering the offices of Trust Co. of the West, he shot and killed Shirley Mooser, 64, an executive assistant for the company, and wounded Vicky Smith, 41, the marketing vice president.
Also killed in the shooting spree were Donald Merrill, 48, of Oakland and Deborah Fogel, 33, of San Rafael, believed to have been an employee of Pettit & Martin, but the circumstances of their deaths were unclear. Charles Ross, 42, of Sausalito, was injured.
Meanwhile, snipers and SWAT units from the San Francisco Police Department, summoned after the first shots were fired, arrived in the plaza at the base of the office tower. Accompanied by paramedics, who treated and evacuated the injured as the shooting continued, the officers took elevators to the 34th floor and began their search.
Richard Holder, tactical commander at the scene, said the two tower elevators were then shut down, sealing off one route of escape for the gunman. Pinpointing Ferri’s location by his bursts of gunfire, SWAT officers managed to position themselves below and above him and, ultimately, cornered him in the stairwell between the 29th and 30th floors.
“We got him trapped in there, because when the fire alarm goes off, the stairwell doors lock,” Holder said. When Ferri saw officers climbing toward him, he put a pistol to his chin and fired one shot, Holder said. Employees said his blood dripped down the stairwell as far as the 26th floor.
At a press conference Friday, Mayor Frank Jordan urged that the 9-millimeter guns used by Ferri be banned, calling them “weapons of war” that have no purpose other than killing people.
The 9-millimeter guns and the .45-caliber Colt semiautomatic pistol may be legally purchased in California. Ferri bought two 9-millimeter pistols in Las Vegas, according to Las Vegas police.
“The tragic and senseless shootings of yesterday confirm what the entire American public knows and that federal laws refuse to recognize: automatic and semiautomatic weapons have no place in American society,” Jordan said in a statement released later. “I plan to redouble my efforts on behalf of gun control so that we can all be safe from this type of violent excess.”
As workers in the California Street high-rise returned to their jobs Friday morning, security was tight--mostly to keep reporters from visiting the crime scene on the upper floors. Near the ground-floor entrance, bouquets of flowers were laid by friends of the victims and sympathizers. Among those paying their respects were Alan and Cheryl Giraldi, law school classmates of the Scullys from the University of San Francisco.
Newark stepped past the flowers as she made her way toward the elevators for a ride up to her desk on the 34th floor. When she fled the gunman Thursday, she had only her reading glasses, and was forced to return Friday for her handbag, keys and other belongings.
“They’re replacing the shattered glass up there, and cutting out pieces of carpet where the bloodstains are,” Newark said. “We go back to work Tuesday. I don’t imagine that will be very easy for any of us.”
Terror in the Tower
The 15-minute rampage erupted at midafternoon Thursday on the 34th floor of an office building at 101 California St. in San Francisco’s financial district. Eight victims and the gunman died, and six others were injured. The floor houses the offices of Pettit & Martin, a major international law firm.
How It Happened
1. Wearing a suit and suspenders and carrying an attache case, gunman gets on elevator. At 34th floor, he steps out into the lobby.
2. He walks into the law firm’s inner corridor and begins shooting through the glass wall of conference room 34-D, where a deposition is being taken by visiting lawyers. Attorney Jack Berman and his client Jody Sposato are killed. Texas attorney Sharon O’Roke and court reporter Eaves are wounded.
3. Allen Berk is killed and Brian Berger wounded in a nearby office.
4. Gunman takes stairway down to 33rd floor and resumes shooting. John Scully is fatally injured as he tries to shield his wife Michelle. David Sutcliffe is killed and a file clerk is hit.
Now on 32nd floor, the gunman kills one person and wounds another at Trust Co. of the West. In a main stairwell between the 29th and 30th floors, the fleeing gunman encounters police and shoots himself.
Authorities have not confirmed where two of the victims were found.
Gian Luigi Ferri, 55, of Woodland Hills, the gunman. His name was released by Mayor Frank Jordan and other sources but not by San Francisco police.
Jack Berman, 35, of San Francisco. A partner with the Bronson, Bronson & McKinnon law firm, he was taking a deposition in the 34th-floor conference room.
Jody Sposato, 30, of Lafayette, plaintiff in a wrongful termination lawsuit against Electronic Data Systems.
Allen J. Berk, 52, a partner at Pettit & Martin who specialized in labor law.
John Scully, 28, of Richmond, a Pettit & Martin attorney. He was shot while protecting his wife, an attorney who was visiting the offices.
David Sutcliffe, 30, of San Francisco, a law student working at Pettit & Martin this summer.
Shirley Mooser, 64, of San Francisco, an executive assistant for Trust Co. of the West.
Deborah Fogel, 33, of San Rafael, a Pettit & Martin employee.
Donald Merrill, 48, of Oakland. Circumstances unknown.
Michelle Scully, 27, of Richmond, wife of John Scully. Discharged from the hospital Friday night.
Brian Berger, 39, of San Francisco, an attorney with Pettit & Martin. In critical condition with chest injuries.
Sharon Jones O’Roke, of Plano, Tex., age unknown, an attorney for Electronic Data Systems. In critical condition with wounds to head, chest and arms.
Deanne Eaves, 33, of Richmond, court reporter who was at deposition in 34th-floor conference room. In stable condition with wounds to right arm.
Vicky Smith, 41, reportedly an employee of Trust Co. of the West. In fair condition with bullet wounds to left shoulder, left hand and left lung.
Charles Ross, 42, of Sausalito, a contract employee at Pettit & Martin. In stable condition with wound to right arm.
SOURCES: Times staff and wire reports, S.F. Examiner
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