Atlanta Stock Trader Kills 12
A day trader apparently upset over big financial losses opened fire on fellow investors and office workers Thursday afternoon, officials said, killing nine people and wounding 12, then eluded a manhunt for six hours before killing himself.
The search for the suspect led police to a second grim discovery: Days ago, they said, the man had killed his wife and two children and left them in his apartment.
One of the largest mass murders in Atlanta’s history unfolded as a live televised mini-play that blended two big phenomena of the year, mass shootings and the stock market boom, as one revelation followed on the heels of another--first an apparent market-driven massacre, then a standoff, then an improbable escape and a killer at large, climaxing with the gunman’s public suicide. The events kept coming--so fast, so frantic--that an entire city was gripped by gridlock, revulsion and panic.
It began about 2:30 p.m. EDT at All-Tech Investment Group, in the posh Buckhead section of Atlanta’s north side, where many of the city’s blue-chip financial firms are ensconced. Mark Orrin Barton, a 44-year-old chubby-faced chemist-turned-trader, strolled into the All-Tech offices as though it were any other day.
The Dow Jones industrial average was down sharply at the moment, roughly 200 points, and Barton made note of the swoon to former colleagues, though he didn’t seem overly upset, said Mayor Bill Campbell, who throughout the crisis took upon himself the unusual role of narrator, holding a near-nonstop news conference at the scene of the shootings, relaying bulletins to the nation as they were handed to him.
Barton had suffered “big swings” in his fortunes before, Campbell said. Barton chitchatted, perhaps even sat awhile, “exchanged pleasantries,” then without warning produced two handguns--a .45-caliber and a 9-millimeter--and began firing, the mayor said.
“He fired indiscriminately,” said Harvey I. Houtkin, CEO of All-Tech, speaking to TV reporters outside the company’s headquarters in Montvale, N.J. “He was aiming at people. He was looking to do damage.”
Campbell said Barton gunned down four people in the glass-facade ultra-modern office building that houses All-Tech, then hurried across the street to another building, where he gunned down five more people at a second brokerage house, Momentum Securities Inc., a branch of the largest day-trading firm in the nation.
“There was no apparent provocation or incident that caused Mr. Barton to begin shooting,” Campbell said. “We have no idea why.”
Barton Said Facing Financial Disaster
But a Momentum official said Barton had suffered major losses this week as the market turned downward, and he faced financial disaster.
At 8 p.m. EDT, police had identified Barton as a suspect but didn’t know where he was. While scouring both office buildings, moving methodically from suite to suite, SWAT teams freed scores of workers who’d been crouching under desks and conference tables. Outside, traffic was stopped as police checked rooftops and car trunks and back seats for Barton.
With darkness falling, police issued a photo of Barton and made a plea for drivers to watch for his green van. Also, they said, he was a pilot, so local airports were put on alert.
Then, another revelation: Police said Barton was the main suspect in yet another two murders, these five years ago. The victims were his former wife and mother-in-law, found hacked to death in a remote campground on Lake Weiss, in northeast Alabama.
At the time, Alabama police told reporters that someone had entered the camper where 36-year-old Debra Spivey Barton was staying with her mother, Eloise Powell Spivey, 59, and killed them with a “sharp, heavy blade.” The killer took two rings but left behind six $100 bills and a revolver.
A sheriff’s investigator said at the time that the killer meant the crime to look like robbery, but it wasn’t: “The motive here was a lot of anger: Kill, kill, kill.”
No murder weapon was ever discovered, and no one was charged. Barton was investigated and named publicly as a suspect, but Alabama officials said they lacked enough hard evidence to arrest him.
Thursday, Alabama and Georgia officials were grappling with the idea that the same hulking, 6-foot-4, 220-pound computer nerd with the goofy grin was responsible for 14 murders, dating back to 1994.
Barton and his first wife had two children, of whom Barton eventually gained custody. At the time, Matthew was 5, Elizabeth Mychelle, 3. Thursday, police said the two were the youngest victims of Barton’s rampage.
Their bodies, and that of their stepmother, Leigh Ann, were found covered with blankets and notes in a modest, bright red apartment complex southeast of Atlanta, where they lived with Barton. The children were in bed, favorite toys and other special items placed alongside them.
Each note was handwritten, on pieces of Barton’s personal stationery. Police wouldn’t reveal their contents but said a much longer, computer-generated, plastic-encased letter was also found in the living room. Police had yet to pore through Barton’s computer records but expected to find much more information there.
David Lang, ex-husband of Barton’s wife, Leigh Ann, said money was very important to Leigh Ann and that she “wanted someone who could take care of her.”
He said he and Leigh Ann were married just over a year when she left him for Barton. She and Barton were married in 1995, a year after the murder of his first wife.
Lang said investigators told him they believed that Leigh Ann was Barton’s baby-sitter the night he murdered his first wife and mother-in-law, but they couldn’t prove it.
John Cabrer, a worker in an office near All-Tech, told WSB-TV in Atlanta that Barton kicked off the shootings with a chilling taunt: “I hope this doesn’t ruin your trading day!”
Minutes later, Cabrer entered the All-Tech office and saw bodies sprawled everywhere, some dead, some clinging to life. “I tried to administer CPR to one of them, but then I realized he was gone.
“So I went to the man who was still conscious on the floor and I called his wife for him.”
When the shooting stopped, police swooped in. As freed workers went streaming single-file through the exits--an eerily grown-up version of the scene at Columbine High School in Colorado three months ago--they huddled on sidewalks and tried, shakily, to comfort one another.
Those who could talk described a sleepy summer afternoon turned upside down: Glass shattering. Furniture splintering. Screams piercing the normally muted corporate halls.
Then, harried flight from the building along plush, blood-soaked carpets.
“Just blood,” said Mark Sanders, who worked on the third floor of the building and was among the first rescued.
"[I watched] cops circle the building, running around the building with vests on,” said a hyperventilating man in his 20s, interviewed by WSB-TV. “And 10 minutes later, cops entering the building with guns drawn. It was pretty spooky.”
One woman said she was whisked by police to a staging area. “It was chaos when I got there. Lots of people with blood on them, lots of people crying.”
Scenes of Terror Outside Hospitals
Similar scenes of terror mingling with relief took place outside three Atlanta hospitals, where the 12 injured were taken.
“He shot my sister,” cried one woman outside Northside Hospital.
Recently, friends and neighbors said, Barton and Leigh Ann had separated. But they reunited quickly and shared an apartment with his two children. For the last three weeks or so, they lived in Stockbridge, a town just southeast of Atlanta. Then, something went wrong.
Police said Barton’s wife and two children may have been killed as early as Tuesday. Where Barton has been since then wasn’t clear.
Police wouldn’t say how Leigh Ann died, but they said the children appeared to have been killed by “blunt force trauma.”
Until recently, Barton and Leigh Ann lived in nearby Morrow, a town down the road from Stockbridge. Neighbors there said Barton was friendly, fun, a former Boy Scout leader who enjoyed cooking and video games.
“He’s pretty cool to be an adult,” said 17-year-old Melvin Bryant, who sometimes minded Barton’s children. “He was like a child at heart, always playing games with us, like Nintendo.
“He was pretty quiet, but he turned everything into a joke to make everything more interesting. I think he’s a good father. He’s always playing with his kids. He used to be in the house all the time on the Internet. He worked from home.
“I can’t put the person I know with the man that shot those people.”
Houtkin, the All-Tech CEO, told TV reporters that he hadn’t yet examined Barton’s records. He knew only that Barton had once traded with the firm but not in the last three months.
At Momentum Securities, an official said Barton’s account was closed Tuesday, after he was unable to meet a margin call. Customers who suffer steep losses with borrowed money often face margin calls from firms asking that they put up extra cash to cover their losses.
Barton, who had a “penchant” for risky Internet stocks, lost about $105,000 since starting at Momentum in June, the official said.
Wednesday, Barton wrote a check for $50,000 to Momentum to reopen his account, but the check apparently bounced and Momentum wouldn’t let Barton trade either Wednesday or Thursday.
Barton began at Momentum with $50,000 in June and claimed previous trading experience and a net worth of $750,000.
“His finances were in order,” the official said. “There was no reason to believe he did not understand the risks and gains [possible] in day trading.”
Six hours after his rampage, Barton’s discovery and death were announced by a mayor who looked drawn.
“Mr. Barton was pulled over” at a gas station in the city’s northern suburbs, Campbell said, “and committed suicide.”
Two weapons were found in Barton’s van, and police said Barton apparently used both on himself.
“At the very least,” Campbell said, “Mr. Barton and the search for him have concluded. . . . His death brings a very tragic day to an end.”
Times staff writer Walter Hamilton and researchers Lianne Hart and Edith Stanley contributed to this story.
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The shootings occurred in an affluent section known as Buckhead. Later, a woman and two children, believed to be the suspect’s family, were found dead in Stockbridge.