Man opens fire at St. Louis plant

Friday, October 22, 2004

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- A former employee walked into a St. Louis County plant where conveyor belts are made and opened fire Thursday while workers were changing shifts, at one point reloading his shotgun in a parking lot before re-entering the building.

Though witnesses reported hearing more than a dozen shots, only one person was injured in the shooting that began at about 3 p.m. at Beltservice Corp., west of St. Louis in an industrialized area near the training facility of the St. Louis Rams. He was taken out of the building and into an ambulance, but was only grazed by a bullet and had a leg injury, said St. Louis County police spokesman Mason Keller.

By evening, the gunman was still in the building. Keller said the man was in an area where he couldn't escape, but he did not elaborate. He did not say why the man had not been captured.

Police -- many toting shotguns -- cordoned off several blocks around the plant, shooing away reporters and the curious from neighboring businesses.

Keller said the man entered the business with a gun and opened fire. The company employs 150 people.

Company co-founder and chairman Dick Engelsmann said 110 employees were in the building at the time of the shooting, and all were evacuated. He said the gunman left the company a year ago. He believes he was fired but could not say why.

"We just want to cooperate with police and do what we can to get this situation in hand," Engelsmann said.

Workers of the business told The Associated Press that the shooting happened near the company's special-fabrication department, not far from a large hallway where a time clock sits.

Craig Kopplin, 33, said he had just begun his shift there when he heard a gunshot blast nearby.

"Boom! Then instantaneously, I heard another," he said.

Kopplin, a one-year worker at the plant, said he saw the gunman only from behind and did not recognize him.

"I heard the two shots and ran in the opposite direction," Kopplin said.

Kevin Tippit, a four-month worker at the company in another department, said he was visiting Kopplin's area when he heard the volley of at least five gunshots, with the suspect firing at people at close range.

Tippit, 41, also bolted and sought shelter in a neighboring building's dock area.

"I was looking through the windows, and the guy came out, reloaded his gun and went right back in," he said. "It's craziness, craziness."

Plant worker Marcus Jordan, 30, knew the shooter. He said the man was having personal problems and missing too many days at work when he was fired about a year ago.

"He told me if lost his job he wouldn't be able to support his family," Jordan said. He described the man as quiet, but helpful to those who needed him.

Beltservice Corp. is a wholesaler and fabricator of industrial conveyor belting. The company operates out of a 280,000-square-foot building.

Associated Press reporter Betsy Taylor contributed to this report.

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