6 dead as argument with boss ends in rampage

Image: Shooting scene
Police cordon off the entrance to Atlantic Plastics Inc. on Wednesday.Daniel Patmore / AP
/ Source: NBC News and news services

A man who killed five people and himself at a western Kentucky plastics plant called his girlfriend two hours before the rampage to warn her that he was going to kill his boss, police said Wednesday.

Police said Wesley N. Higdon, 25, had an argument with his supervisor about wearing safety goggles and using his cell phone while he was at his press machine Tuesday.

Later that night, as the supervisor escorted him from the building, Higdon shot him, apparently using a .45-caliber pistol he kept in his car. Then, he charged into a break room and the plant floor and kept shooting before killing himself, police said.

A man who called authorities frantically described the violent scene to a dispatcher, tallying up the number of dead around him. Between 35 and 40 workers were inside the factory at the time.

"There's more than two people dead. There's like one, two, three, four, five people dead," the man said. "The supervisor is dead, too."

The killings stunned Henderson, Kentucky, a sleepy 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 150 people and makes parts for refrigerators and plastic siding for homes.

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

Nevels said family members told detectives that Higdon kept a .45-caliber pistol in his car almost all the time, which is permissible in Kentucky.

The victims were not released. However, Henderson County Coroner Bruce Farmer confirmed the supervisor was among the dead. 

'Hurting deeply'
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. McClure declined to identify those who were killed, at the request of the Henderson County coroner, but said their families and fellow parishioners were shocked by the shootings.

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

Hours after the shooting, police had set up a roadblock on the street leading to the plant, which is in an industrial area on the southern side of Henderson. Other employees at the plant were sent home.

In a news release on the company's Web site, Atlantis Plastics said it is a leading U.S. manufacturer of three kinds of products: polyethylene stretch films for wrapping pallets of materials, custom films for industrial and packaging uses, and molded plastic pieces used in products such as appliances and recreational vehicles. The company employs about 1,300 people worldwide, and about 150 in Henderson,.

The company has annual sales of $110 million, according to business directory Hoovers. 

"It’s just total shock. It’s something you read about in the paper," company CEO Bud Philbrook told The Associated Press.