Man shoots 4 co-workers at Fresno plant, 2 fatally
Lawrence Jones didn’t seem quite “himself” on Tuesday morning, a co-worker would later tell police.
He started his shift with the others at the chicken packaging plant in central Fresno at 5 a.m. They often work until 5 p.m. -- grateful, many said, for the overtime.
But about 8:20 a.m., just a few minutes before a meal break, Jones, 42, pulled out a .357-caliber derringer handgun and started killing. Authorities said he walked methodically up to his victims, shooting execution style.
“He walked around them in order to get very close to the intended targets, place the gun very close and fire a round,” Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said.
By the time he emptied his four-shot gun, two people were dead and two others were wounded. Jones, a career criminal who had been discharged from parole this summer, ran from the building. He reloaded his gun and fatally shot himself in the head.
The packaging plant -- Valley Protein, formerly known as Apple Valley Farm -- is just off Blackstone Avenue, a busy thoroughfare through this city of some 500,000, in an area dense with auto repair shops and mom-and-pop eateries.
Roger Medina, 44, was on his way to pick up trophies for his soccer team about 8:30 a.m. when he saw a man in meat-cutter gear running down Blackstone Avenue, yelling, “Somebody’s shooting! Get help!”
Medina, who has CPR training, pulled onto the side street where the man was pointing.
“People in full sanitary gear, the hairnets and all, were running, screaming. Some were crying,” he said.
There were 62 people in the plant when the shooting started and 30 of them saw the violence, Dyer said.
Manuel Verdin, 34, and Salvador Diaz, 32, were shot in the head and died, Dyer said. Arnulfo Conrriquez, 28, was shot in the throat and was in critical condition.
Several men tried to stop Jones, but he pointed his gun at their heads, too. He shot 32-year-old Fatima Lopez in the lower back as she fled from the violence.
He placed his gun to the head of a fifth worker, Esteban Catano, and pulled the trigger. Catano escaped death only because Jones’ gun was out of ammunition, Dyer said.
Workers fled into the streets. Jones ran from the building, reloading his gun.
When Medina got out of the car to help, he said, “I looked down at the ground and about 12 feet away is a guy with head trauma laying on a gun. He was the shooter.”
Even as investigators worked to collect witness statements, police rushed to search Jones’ residence, fearful that he may have harmed others before going to work. They did not discover more victims.
Authorities described Jones as a discharged parolee with an extensive criminal history. According to records from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Jones has been in and out of prison since 1991.
Jones received a three-year sentence in 1991 for second-degree robbery in Alameda County and was released in November 1993. In 1995, he was sentenced to 13 years for robbery with use of a firearm in Fremont County. He was released in 2001.
In 2004, he was back in prison again -- this time for stealing a car, driving under the influence and causing bodily injury. He was released in June 2011, and discharged from parole in May 2012.
Across the street from the plant, the usually bustling Tacos Nayarit was eerily empty. Owner Felipe Atzate said his first customers every morning are the chicken packaging workers.
“They only have 30 minutes to eat, so they call me first, tell me ‘Hey, I want this. I want that.’ Today nobody called me, then I see a lot of cops,” Arzate said.
He said the crew is mostly Spanish speakers who work long hours. Sometimes they don’t have money.
“They say, ‘Hey man, can I pay you next time?’ I say ‘Sure,’ and they always pay me,” Atzate said. “I know them all -- not their names, but their faces, their jokes and what they like to eat.
“I don’t feel right. It should be busy and happy here right now and today nobody’s come,” he said. “I am very worried about my friends.”
Times staff writers Richard Winton and Kate Mather contributed to this report.