SAN DIEGO — A recently fired General Dynamics worker shot to death a company labor representative and critically wounded his former supervisor Friday afternoon after a grievance hearing, spreading panic among hundreds of employees at the company's sprawling Convair Division plant off Pacific Highway.
Police arrested Robert Earl Mack, 42, a machinist for the aerospace company since 1968, after a brief standoff at an employment office in the plant near Lindbergh Field. He is being held on suspicion of murder and assault at County Jail downtown.
Terrified employees who had just finished the day shift fled and took cover while armed police and security officers converged on an office to which the gunman had run after shooting his former co-workers, witnesses said.
"It was very terrifying," said Devin Price, a paramedic who worked on one of the victims as police a few feet away trained their guns on Mack and talked him into surrendering. "I cannot stress enough how terrifying it was. It was utter chaos in there."
The dead man was identified as Michael Konz, 25, a human-resources counselor and part-time law student. He died at 3:33 p.m. at UC San Diego Medical Center.
The second victim, 52-year-old James English, was in critical condition late Friday with a gunshot wound to the head after undergoing surgery, according to hospital and General Dynamics executives.
English had been Mack's supervisor before Mack, a missile assembler and divorced father of three, was fired Jan. 15 for unsatisfactory attendance, according to company officials.
Mack used a visitor's pass Friday to enter the plant for a routine grievance hearing on his dismissal at the company's Human Resources Building, officials said. Also attending the meeting were a union representative for the International Assn. of Machinists, English and Konz, who represented the company in labor matters, officials said.
"(Konz) was a labor representative who typically sits in on grievance proceedings," George Roos, vice president for human resources, said during a brief and emotional news conference late Friday night. Roos, who said he knew Konz personally, said the company is bringing in crisis-intervention teams to counsel workers.
Shortly after the grievance hearing ended, police said, Mack drew a handgun and opened fire, hitting both Konz and English in the back of the head. The shootings took place about 2:30 p.m. in front of numerous employees in a courtyard outside the building, police said.
Mack then ran back into the building and took refuge in an office, where he was partially visible as police officers took up positions just outside and negotiated with him, said Price, the paramedic. Price described a feverish scene as several paramedics began working on English, who was found lying just inside the building, and Konz, who was in the courtyard.
"As soon as we arrived, we just tried to get set up medically and do our work the best way we could," Price said. Despite his head wound, English was conscious and talking as he was being treated, Price said.
Two other employees were in the office, but police said it did not appear that Mack held them hostage. Police also said that when they arrested Mack, he had discarded the gun, which was found nearby. He surrendered about 2:55 p.m.
As word of the shooting spread and emergency vehicles sped into the area, the chaos on the grounds of the plant heightened because the incident occurred at the time of a shift change, when hundreds of employees were leaving and arriving.
Workers who appeared at the plant to begin their 3:30 p.m. shift were locked out by security guards, and scores of them stood against a fence in a parking lot beneath a freeway off-ramp, watching in disbelief.
Sharon Gale, a dispatcher who had been working next door to the employment office near where the shooting occurred, said: "Someone darted into our building yelling: 'Help, help! Somebody's been shot!' From there it was pure chaos."
Alex Sainz, a sheet metal worker, said he saw people huddled in a building, "trying to stay away from the door. They wanted to stay away from the gunman."
Kay Barker, a stock room employee, said she had just punched out when she heard the screams.
"People came out screaming and yelling," Barker said. "They were so scared. The employees have been talking among ourselves because we were afraid something like this would happen because there is so much unemployment and layoffs at General Dynamics."
The past months have been a time of uncertainty and tension at the company because of job cuts at three San Diego divisions of General Dynamics, which employ a total of about 16,000 people.
The Convair Division, which makes the Air Force's Advanced Cruise Missile as well as fuselages for commercial airliners, has been hit recently by the announcement of 500 layoffs, attributed to a slowdown in the jet airliner industry. Defense Department cutbacks have caused layoffs in other divisions.