Police in Henderson, Ky., said a pair of late-night arguments with co-workers led a press operator to open fire early June 25 at Atlantis Plastics Inc.'s injection molding plant there, killing five and wounding one before turning the gun on himself.
In a June 25 televised news conference, police Sgt. John Nevels said the gunman, Wesley Neal Higdon, 25, of Henderson had argued with a supervisor, Kevin Taylor, 30, of Dixon, Ky., and a co-worker, Joshua Hinojosa, 28, of Sebree, Ky., who were among those killed.
Also killed were Trisha Mirelez, 25, and Rachael Vasquez, 26, of Sebree; and Israel Monroy, 29, of Henderson.
Israel Monroy's sister Noelia Monroy, 22, of Henderson was shot but survived and was listed June 26 in good condition at St. Mary's Medical Center in Evansville, Ind.
In a June 25 statement, Bud Philbrook, Atlantis president and chief executive officer, pledged the Atlanta-based company's full cooperation with investigators. ``Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families and we will work with them to provide our help and support,'' he said.
According to police, on the evening of June 24, Higdon had a confrontation with Taylor during his shift. ``The supervisor got onto [Higdon] for talking on his cell phone and not wearing his safety glasses. [Higdon] got mad about that,'' Nevels said.
Higdon and Hinojosa also had an argument and scuffled at a nearby convenience store during a break in their shift, but investigators had not determined the nature of that dispute, Nevels said.
``We believe [Higdon] expected that he would be fired from the plant,'' after Taylor learned of the fight, Nevels said.
At about 12:20 a.m. June 25, after Taylor ordered him to go home and escorted him from the plant, Higdon retrieved a .45-caliber semi-automatic handgun from his parked truck, police said. ``He shot the supervisor right outside the front door,'' Nevels said.
Higdon entered the facility and shot Mirelez, Vasquez and the Monroys in a break room, then shot Hinojosa on the factory floor before shooting himself, Nevels said.
Henderson County Coroner Bruce Farmer said Higdon and Mirelez died at the scene. Taylor, Vasquez and Hinojosa died at local hospitals.
Nevels said Higdon called his girlfriend two hours before the shooting and told her he was going to kill his boss. Prosecutors will review the case to determine if the woman will face charges of failing to report the call.
Although most of the victims were Hispanic, police do not believe the shootings were racially motivated, Nevels said. He said surveillance video of the shootings in the break room showed Higdon indiscriminately firing at several employees.
At the news conference, plant manager Dean Jorgensen choked up while describing the effect of the shootings on employees. ``This is a devastating blow to us at this plant,'' he said. ``This is the worst day of my life.''
Higdon in January was disciplined for failing to report a broken towel rack in an employee restroom, Jorgensen said, but otherwise seemed like a typical employee. Higdon had worked at the facility for about eight months. He had misdemeanor convictions for marijuana possession and drunken driving, police said.
About 160 employees at the plant, which makes parts for refrigerators and plastic siding for homes, were sent home after the shootings. The facility reopened June 26 and grief counselors were on hand to discuss the incident with employees.
Atlantis makes polyethylene stretch and custom films, and molds products for the appliance, automotive, agricultural, building supply and recreational vehicle industries. Atlantis has plants and offices in Fort Smith, Ark.; Fontana, Calif.; Cartersville, Ga.; Elkhart, Ind.; Henderson and Nicholasville, Ky.; Sterling Heights, Mich.; Mankato, Minn.; Tulsa, Okla.; Jackson and La Vergne, Tenn.; and Alamo, Texas.
The Henderson plant previously was part of Cyanede Plastics Inc., a local company founded in 1949 that did injection molding for Whirlpool Corp. Atlantis Holdings acquired the facility in 1985, changing its name in 1995 to Atlantis Plastics Injection Molding. Atlantis in 2002 spent an estimated $3 million to expand the plant by 15,000 square feet, adding 12 former Whirlpool presses and 40 employees to accommodate extra business from the Benton Harbor, Mich.-based appliance maker.
Atlantis announced March 7 it would voluntarily de-list its stock from the Nasdaq composite index. Atlantis in January retained an investment banking firm to assist in evaluating alternatives, including a possible sale of the firm.