Postal workers at a City of Industry facility grappled Monday with the mystery of why Bruce Clark allegedly shot supervisor James Whooper III to death.
Both employees had blemish-free personnel files, and witnesses said that Clark and Whooper did not appear even to be arguing when Clark shot Whooper twice during their Sunday morning graveyard shift.
A postal union official, however, said Whooper was known as a strict disciplinarian, and a friend of Clark's said Clark had complained that he was being singled out for discipline.
Whooper "was mild-mannered, a nice person, but a strict supervisor," said Omar Gonzalez, general president of the Greater Los Angeles Area local of the American Postal Workers Union. "When he was in Los Angeles, there were problems with him. He was overly stern and heavy-handed."
Gonzalez said the union at one point brought the issue of Whooper's management style before a labor-management meeting, but he could not recall workers' specific grievances.
"He may have changed once he got out of the major plants" in Los Angeles, Gonzalez said.
Postal officials said Whooper's personnel file did not show a troubled history, nor did union officials recall any problems with him after he transferred to Rosemead in 1992 and City of Industry this year.
"This person was a non-confrontational sort of supervisor," said Terri Bouffiou, a postal service spokeswoman in Southern California. "That was not his style."
Gladys Hoy, his former girlfriend and mother of his 6-year-old son, described Whooper, 50, as a "gentle, caring man."
"He was just a sweet guy," said Hoy, a postal worker at Los Angeles International Airport. "I can't think of anything that he would do that would make people want to hurt him. It really makes no sense."
Whooper had been in the Army Reserve, Hoy said, and was thinking of sending their son to military school.
"He was a strict manager," she added. "He only did his job. He went strictly by the book. But James was not the type of person who would provoke anyone."
Likewise, Clark was described as mild-mannered and quiet, and co-workers had little indication that he was disgruntled, Bouffiou said.
Bill Windle, a San Dimas apartment supervisor who had been a neighbor of Clark's since 1991, said Clark was not a disgruntled postal worker, but he had deteriorated emotionally after 22 years on the job.
Windle said that not long ago, Clark told him that a supervisor at work had singled him out. At one point, Clark gave him the supervisor's license plate number.
"He wanted me to try and find out something about the guy," Windle said. "The guy had singled him out and he didn't know why."
"But . . . he really loved his job."
Windle said Clark often came to his home on Sundays and they talked about life.
"He really loved his job. Bruce just loved life," Windle said. "He lived alone and he didn't have many friends. Still, sometimes the guy aggravated me because he loved everybody. I'd tell him how many of my tenants would drive me crazy and he'd say 'Aw, they're good people.' "
Clark, 58, of Azusa, was charged with one count of first-degree murder Monday and is scheduled to be arraigned at Citrus Municipal Court in West Covina today, said Deputy Dist. Atty. David E. Demerjian.
Shortly before the 2:30 a.m. shooting at the sprawling facility in the 15400 block of Gale Avenue, Clark, a distribution clerk, punched Whooper in the back of the head, authorities said.
As Whooper went to report the incident to a superior, Clark left the room and returned with a paper bag. When Whooper asked Clark what was in the bag, police said, Clark opened it, pulled out a .38-caliber revolver and fired twice, striking Whooper in the upper body and the face. As workers tried to subdue him, Clark allegedly cried: "Did I get him?"
Witnesses say they did not notice an argument between Clark and Whooper that would have escalated the confrontation, said James E. Moffett, president of the postal workers local in Montclair.
"There basically was no argument," Moffett said. "That is why it is a mystery at this point."
Workers, meanwhile, said an atmosphere of sadness pervaded the workplace in the wake of the shooting. Counselors were on hand to talk about it. Moffett said the Postal Service should consider using metal detectors to keep guns out.
"We are just trying to figure out what happened," said Ron Dudeck, 52, who works in the engineering department at the City of Industry facility. "But I don't know what you do to protect yourself from your own selves."