Gunman Kills 5 Co-Workers, Self
A Mississippi man who had spoken openly about his hatred of blacks and his capacity for killing went on a rampage Tuesday morning at the defense plant where he worked, fatally shooting five and wounding nine before taking his own life with a shotgun, authorities and area residents said.
Investigators identified the gunman as Doug Williams, 48, a production assemblyman for the past 19 years at a Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. plant three miles outside this eastern Mississippi industrial city of about 45,000. It was the nation’s worst workplace shooting in nearly three years.
Several theories emerged about the motive behind the shootings. Williams had recently gone through a bitter divorce, said Bobby R. Smith, a member of the Meridian City Council. Williams was also reportedly upset about a malfunctioning time-card system at the plant, one investigator said. More than anything, however, witnesses and victims’ relatives said that Williams’ declared bigotry was to blame.
Four of the five co-workers he killed were black, including Lanette McCall, 47, of nearby Cuba, Ala., an aircraft mechanic at the plant for 15 years and the mother of two daughters. McCall had told her family and her supervisors that Williams had threatened to kill blacks for more than a year, her husband, Bobby, said in a telephone interview Tuesday evening.
Lockheed Martin had placed Williams in anger-management and threat-assessment counseling but had recently returned him to the assembly floor, Bobby McCall said.
“She was real concerned about this guy and his threats and the way he acted at work,” McCall said of his wife of 21 years. “He said he was going to do what he did today, and then kill himself. He used the word ‘nigger.’ That’s who he referred to when he was talking about it. She knew he was going to do something. She just kept telling me: ‘Don’t worry about me. I’m watching him. I’m keeping my eyes on him. And I’m trying to steer clear of him.’ ”
Williams came to work two weeks ago carrying a white Ku Klux Klan hood, said Terri Collier, an area resident whose 47-year-old husband, Alvin, was shot three times but was expected to survive. Williams was sent home after that incident, Terri Collier said. Alvin Collier told his wife that Williams began his shooting spree in a trailer on the Lockheed Martin plant site, where four black employees were taking an ethics class Tuesday morning.
“ ‘Oh, good, you’re all together,’ ” Williams said upon entering the trailer, according to Alvin Collier.
Though authorities gathered black and white religious leaders together for an evening news conference and prayer vigil, they declined to discuss allegations that race may have played a role.
At the Fort Worth corporate headquarters of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., a division of the nation’s largest defense contractor, spokeswoman Catherine Blades declined to comment on reports that the company had placed Williams in counseling. Lockheed Martin released a brief statement about the incident, saying that it is “shocked and saddened by this tragedy and [we] express our deepest sympathies to the families.”
Officials said Williams reported for work Tuesday and attended a meeting with co-workers about 9:30 a.m. During a break, he retrieved a 12-gauge, pump-action shotgun and a semiautomatic rifle from his pickup truck, leaving three more weapons behind in the truck. Wearing camouflage pants and a black T-shirt and carrying an enormous cache of ammunition, he walked back inside the plant, where 138 people were working, and began shooting, officials said.
Witnesses said he walked slowly through the aisles of an assembly floor where parts for C-130J Hercules and F-22 Raptor military jets are built each day, leveling, aiming and firing the shotgun repeatedly. Terrified employees dived for cover and ran for their lives. Some were shot while sitting at their desks, officials said, and several died with their heads cradled in co-workers’ bloody hands.
“He’s a lunatic. He just went berserk,” Councilman Smith said. “We have a safe city, a good city. I cannot imagine anyone going out and doing what he did. The guy had a serious problem. And he took it out on everybody.”
Surviving victims’ friends and relatives gathered at three area hospitals Tuesday night to await word from doctors.
In one waiting room, Terri Collier sat with 29 relatives as doctors worked on her husband, who told his wife he gathered the strength to try to wrestle the shotgun away from Williams after he had already been shot in the shoulder and torso. As he and Williams fought over the gun, Alvin Collier noticed that the other employees were running from the assembly floor.
“Aren’t you all going to help me?” Collier screamed to the others as they ran, according to his wife.
The struggle ended when Williams shot Collier a third time, in the hand, and Collier fell to the ground.
Terri Collier said her husband told her after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that he would have done what some heroic passengers did that morning -- attempt to wrest control of one airplane from terrorists before it plunged into a Pennsylvania field. “Little did I know he would have that chance,” she said.
Hundreds of people left work early in the area and began waiting in line under a sweltering sun to give blood, hoping to help several surviving victims who were undergoing surgery, including two who remained in critical condition.
“The people of Mississippi are a close-knit family,” Gov. Ronnie Musgrove said in a telephone interview as he hurried to the scene. “It’s a sad day for all of us.”
In neighboring Clarke County, Miss., where Williams grew up before moving to Meridian, Sheriff Todd Kemp said he has known Williams’ family for years, and said there was no indication that he might have been prone to violence. “I know he was raised all his life in church,” Kemp said. “To the best of my knowledge he was a pretty straightforward, churchgoing man. I really just don’t have an answer as to what motivated him to do what he did.”
The shooting came a week after a Missouri factory worker fatally shot three of his co-workers before killing himself.
But despite the news coverage of workplace shootings, employee-on-employee violence is on the decline, said Steve Kaufer, co-founder of the Palm Springs-based Workplace Violence Research Institute. Far more employees are injured or killed each year because of robberies or other incidents involving strangers, he said.
“We are seeing more reporting of lower-level incidents,” he said. “One of the things that is a misconception is that somebody just snaps. Typically there are warning signs.”
The Rev. Bill Harper of the local Savannah Grove Baptist Church said following the prayer vigil Tuesday night that he is telling his largely black congregation that “we cannot allow revenge or hate.”
“Hate will come back and boomerang,” he said. “Racism is sick. Perhaps it’s not dead. But it’s sick. And maybe this episode will push us in the right direction.”
Gold reported from Houston, Hart from Meridian.
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