Advertisement
Share

A Private Man Accused of ‘Great Cruelty’

TIMES STAFF WRITER

He called himself Mucko, a comical version of the name his nieces and nephews couldn’t pronounce. And to those adults who knew him, Michael McDermott was equally hard to figure out--a quirky, private person who kept his opinions to himself and almost never bothered others.

But as he stood stiffly Wednesday in a packed Massachusetts courtroom, the hulking, bearded man accused of killing seven co-workers at an Internet firm the day before clearly seemed to have left a savage mark on the world. The five- to eight-minute shooting spree at Edgewater Technology Inc., said Assistant Dist. Atty. Thomas O’Reilly, was “an extreme atrocity, showing great cruelty.”

While O’Reilly recited the gruesome details--a receptionist shot in the face, an accountant blown away as he crouched at his keyboard, three victims riddled with bullets as they cowered in a storage room, two others killed trying to flee--the man in the orange jumpsuit at the center of it all scanned the Middlesex County courtroom with reptilian eyes devoid of emotion.

Who is Michael McDermott, and why would he carry out such a barbaric attack?

Advertisement

The alleged gunman, who pleaded not guilty, was charged with seven counts of murder and ordered held without bail. If convicted, he faces 25 years to life imprisonment.

As McDermott was led away in manacles, a portrait slowly emerged of a brilliant, self-taught computer whiz beset with personal difficulties and mounting financial problems--a guy who sent Christmas cards to friends, exchanged tips about bomb construction with others on the Internet and schmoozed with co-workers hours before slaughtering them.

“This was a very private guy and you didn’t know that much about him,” added Mike Stanley, a colleague at Edgewater Technology in Wakefield, just north of Boston. “But after I heard what had happened at the office, I thought to myself, if it was going to be anybody, it would be him.”

McDermott was born in Plymouth, Mass., graduated from Marshfield High School in 1976 and went directly into the Navy. He served a six-year tour of duty as an electrician’s mate and was deployed twice aboard the nuclear attack submarine Narwhal. He rose to the rank of petty officer second class, a mid-level noncommissioned officer. After his Navy service, he worked 9 1/2 years for battery maker Duracell. McDermott resigned in February, when the company moved its manufacturing facility to Connecticut. He started working at Edgewater Technology the next month.

Advertisement

In 1992, McDermott was married to Monica Sheehan of Methuen, Mass., but they divorced amicably 3 1/2 years later. He lived most recently in a small apartment in Haverhill, near the New Hampshire border, and was described by neighbor Kevin Forzese as “a very private person. . . . He almost never went out.” When he smiled at him on Christmas Day, Forzese said, “it was the first time that I actually saw him smile or be happy about something.”

According to neighbors, McDermott owed several thousand dollars in back rent on a previous apartment in Weymouth but abandoned it on Halloween night, hurling some of his possessions out the window and leaving the unit in disrepair.

IRS Garnishment Seen as Possible Motive

The 42-year-old software tester also failed to pay federal income taxes, according to Middlesex County Dist. Atty. Martha Coakley. When the Internal Revenue Service persuaded Edgewater Technology to garnishee his wages, she and others speculated that something in McDermott may have snapped. Coakley stressed, however, that this theory of why he erupted is still under investigation.

Advertisement

She added that McDermott did not appear to have a criminal record nor did he have permits for the guns he used. Police are continuing to investigate how he acquired the murderous arsenal.

“He had a blow-up several weeks ago at the office because he didn’t like what was happening to his wages,” said one co-worker, who asked not to be identified. “Then he went out and did something so unbelievable.”

The irony, the co-worker added, was that company officials had told McDermott that they would not begin garnisheeing his wages until after Jan. 1, out of consideration for him during the holiday season.

As coroners continued to perform autopsies on the seven victims, families and friends mourned their losses. One of the slain employees, 29-year-old Jennifer Bragg-Capobianco, had just returned to work after giving birth to her first child 10 weeks ago. Rose Manfredy, an accounting employee, would have turned 50 Wednesday. The victims ranged from an office receptionist to a company vice president and all were recalled as gentle people who had had little or no interaction with McDermott.

Advertisement

“They were my friends, just the nicest people,” said distraught co-worker Nancy Pecjo. “Why would someone do something so horrible?”

In the killings, which O’Reilly called “premeditated,” McDermott allegedly shot receptionist Janice Hagerty and another woman by the front desk and then “methodically” hunted down what police said were carefully chosen targets in the firm’s accounting department, which would have been in charge of processing his garnisheed wages. All of the victims were hit multiple times and died instantly. One woman, who hid behind a coat slung over a chair in an office, was miraculously spared when the gunman sprayed the room with bullets, Wakefield police officials said.

Rifle, Ammunition Found in Work Space

Edgewater Technology Chief Executive Officer Shirley Singleton said in a Tuesday statement: “We deeply regret that Mr. McDermott’s problems manifested in actions against the company and its employees. There was no way to anticipate his actions or any apparent reasons to restrict his access to the building.”

Advertisement

In fact, police speculated, the carnage could have been worse. When officers searched McDermott’s work space, they discovered a semiautomatic rifle with a sniper scope and live ammunition in a locker, in addition to the three weapons he had brought to work in a black tote bag. After searching his home, they found blasting caps, bomb-making magazines and three gallons of liquid nitric acid, a component in nitroglycerin.

Kevin Reddington, McDermott’s attorney, did not contest the denial of bail during the brief arraignment Wednesday. He noted only that his client recently had been under psychiatric care and needed to take medication. Reddington refused to elaborate on McDermott’s condition.

McDermott, who wore a bulletproof vest under his prison jumpsuit at the hearing, did not make eye contact with his elderly parents, who were sitting in a section of the courtroom reserved for family members. Although they refused to comment, Reddington said that they were “devastated” by Tuesday’s events and watched somberly as their son was led away under heavily armed guard.

Meanwhile, there were additional indications of a man lost in his own world. Less than 24 hours after the slaughter, McDermott’s home answering machine featured him imitating a chronically depressed android in the science-fiction novel “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”: “Here I am, brain the size of a planet, and what does he have me doing? Reduced to answering the phones. Phones. Oh, how I hate the phones. They’re so depressing.”

Advertisement

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Retracing the Gunman’s Steps

At 11:14 a.m. Tuesday, police began receiving 911 calls from about 30 or 40 different individuals reporting that shots were being fired at Edgewater Technology Inc. A short time later, the suspect, Michael McDermott, was in custody and seven were dead. The entire event lasted from five to eight minutes. This is what is believed to have taken place, based on information available as of 2 p.m. PST Wednesday.

*

Advertisement

Sources: Public Works Department, Wakefield, Mass.; police reports; compiled from AP wire reports


Advertisement