A disgruntled worker embroiled in a pension dispute with his company showed up at the plant and opened fire Thursday, killing three people and wounding five before killing himself, authorities said.
The shooting spree at ABB Group's plant sent frightened co-workers scrambling into closets and to the snow-covered roof for safety.
Fire officials identified the shooter as 51-year-old Timothy Hendron of Webster Groves, a St. Louis suburb. Police said a man believed to be the gunman was found dead inside the plant from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
"We're very confident that this is the shooter," Police Chief Dan Isom said at a news conference.
The shooting began at 6:30 a.m. at the plant where the Swiss-owned company makes electrical transformers. Police spent hours inside the sprawling building searching for the gunman and additional victims.
The motive for the shooting wasn't known, and Isom said it may be weeks before police pieced together why it happened. But in 2006, Hendron and other ABB workers sued the company over retirement losses. The federal lawsuit accused ABB and its pension-review committee of causing their 401(k) accounts to include investment options with "unreasonable and excessive" — and undisclosed — fees and expenses. The suit went to trial Tuesday in Kansas City.
KMOX radio said Hendron was an assembly-line worker who had been employed by the company for 23 years.
3 weapons found
The shooting began during a shift change at the plant, which employs about 270 people. Forty to 50 employees were likely in the building at the time, police Capt. Sam Dotson said.
Two of those killed were found in the parking lot outside the plant, Isom said. One victim and the man believed to be the shooter were found inside, along with three weapons — an assault rifle, a handgun and a shotgun, he said.
It wasn't clear how many shots were fired, but authorities said employees scurried to find refuge from the bullets.
"Many of them sought safety on the roof, in boilers and broom closets," Dotson said.
Names of the victims were not immediately released. Police said two of the injured were in critical condition and two were in fair condition. One was treated at a hospital and released.
The shooting occurred on what was already a chaotic day in St. Louis after 4 inches of snow fell, winds whipped to more than 30 mph and the wind chill dipped below zero.
Dozens of emergency vehicles circled the sprawling plant. Interstate 70 was closed for about three miles in both directions for several hours while police searched for the gunman in and around the plant.
ABB Group makes power transmission and industrial automation equipment. The company manufactures transformers at the St. Louis site. ABB has operations in roughly 100 countries, employing about 120,000 people. Last October, ABB reported third-quarter earnings of more than $1 billion.
Thomas Schmidt, an ABB corporate spokesman in Zurich, Switzerland, said in statement that the company had received reports of the shooting.
"This is obviously a very serious situation and we are working to gather more information as it becomes available," the statement said. "The welfare of our employees is of utmost importance to us."
Word of Hendron's alleged involvement in the shooting stunned his neighbors in Webster Groves. Many described Hendron as an amicable family man who kept a well-manicured home.
"I couldn't ask for a better neighbor. We never had any problems with him," said Glennon Meyer, 71, noting that Hendron made friendly gestures ranging from raking Meyer's leaves to bringing over a chocolate cake last Christmas.
Ronald D. Bartram, another neighbor, said the suspect was a hunter who owned guns.
"I am very upset," he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "He is a good man."
Yet even those who knew him casually were aware that Hendron was unhappy at work. He mentioned in passing that he was having problems at ABB, and over the last two years he asked his neighbor Mike Sweney, an attorney, for referral to a good labor lawyer.
Hendron hinted that he was being retaliated against for taking part in the litigation against ABB, Sweney said. He said Hendron didn't elaborate on problems at work but said employees were being treated unfairly and needed to take legal action to set things right.
"I sensed a certain disgruntlement on his part," Sweney said.
Jerry Schlichter of the St. Louis-based Schlichter, Bogard and Denton law firm, which is representing Hendron and the other ABB workers in their lawsuit, declined to discuss his client Thursday during a break in the trial.
Police searched Hendron's modest, brick home in the middle-class neighborhood. Neighbors said Hendron left behind a wife and teenage son.