Image: Prayer vigil
Bob Gwaltney  /  AP
Atlantis Plastics employees and family members attend a prayer vigil Wednesday on the Henderson County, Ky., courthouse lawn. "Our whole community is in shock," County Judge-Executive Sandy Watkins said.
updated 6/26/2008 2:45:30 PM ET 2008-06-26T18:45:30

It was swift and chaotic, witnesses said, as the plastics plant worker with a determined look opened fire, killing five co-workers then himself in rural western Kentucky.

Police said Wesley N. Higdon, 25, shot his supervisor outside the plant, then went inside and kept shooting. When the gunfire ended, one of Higdon's co-workers was dead, four others were dying, and he had committed suicide.

A witness who hid behind a wall when the gunfire started said a bullet struck a water line, spraying water all over the plant.

"When I heard the gunshots, I thought it was something electrical," said plant worker Mark Singery. "When I peeked back out, I saw (him) lying there dead."

The facility closed for most of the day but reopened for limited production Wednesday night, plant manager Dean Jorgensen said Thursday.

Arguments, then gunfire
The shooting occurred hours after an argument between Higdon and his supervisor over his not wearing safety goggles and using his cell phone while on the assembly line, police said. Higdon, 25, of Henderson, called his girlfriend and told her that he wanted to kill his boss, according to police.

The girlfriend didn't warn anyone, police said, and just two hours later he argued with another co-worker at a gas station near the plant, then returned and shot and killed his supervisor as they walked outside. He went back inside and shot at co-workers in a break room and on the plant floor.

"He just walked in, looked like he meant business and started shooting at everybody," Henderson Police Sgt. John Nevels said at a news conference.

Authorities said Higdon was known to keep a .45-caliber pistol in his car, which is not illegal in Kentucky.

Higdon's girlfriend, Teresa Solano Ventura, said through an interpreter that she was not aware that Higdon carried a gun in his car, The Gleaner of Henderson reported. She also said Higdon had threatened to kill himself, not his supervisor.

"He said to her that he was going to kill himself," Abby Valasquez told the newspaper, translating for her cousin, who does not speak English well.

Ventura described Higdon, with whom she has a 7-month-old son, as generous and "a good person," the newspaper said.

One worker was injured and was being treated in the critical care unit at St. Mary's Hospital and Medical Center in Evansville, Ind.

Community in shock
The killings stunned the Ohio River town of about 28,000 people, where a local leader said many residents know or are related to a worker at the plant. The plant, operated by Atlanta-based Atlantis Plastics, employs about 160 people and makes parts for refrigerators and plastic siding for homes.

At a prayer service Wednesday night, residents gathered to mourn the victims, some weeping softly and carrying roses.

"Our whole community is in shock," Henderson County Judge-Executive Sandy Watkins said.

Henderson County Coroner Bruce Farmer identified the supervisor as Kevin G. Taylor, 30, of Dixon. The slain co-workers were Trisha Mirelez, 25, Rachael Vasquez, 26, and Joshua Hinojosa, 28, all of Sebree; and Israel Monroy, 29, of Henderson. The hospitalized survivor was identified as Monroy's sister, Noelia Monroy.

She was listed in good condition on Thursday, hospital spokeswoman Cheryl Dauble said.

Investigators were trying to piece together the timing of the shooting spree. Philbrook said Higdon didn't appear to have any previous disciplinary problems at the plant.

Four of the victims were members of St. Michael's Catholic Church in Sebree, Ky., said the Rev. Jason McClure, who had spent much of the morning with the victims' families.

"They are very upset and hurting deeply and just trying to figure out what to do next," McClure said.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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