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Sniper Fires at MCA High-Rise, Injures 7 : Violence: Police identify the gunman as a former employee of the company. Two secretaries on the 14th floor are struck by rounds.

April 21, 1993|DOUG SMITH and JULIE TAMAKI | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

UNIVERSAL CITY — A dispirited man with a high-powered rifle casually took up a position across the street from MCA World Headquarters in Universal City on Tuesday morning and alternately pumped bullets into the 15-story "Black Tower" and swigged from a bottle of liquor for about five minutes before surrendering to police.

Seven employees were wounded in the 35- to 40-bullet barrage, two shot and five others cut by flying glass.

Hundreds more, realizing only gradually that the strange whip-cracking sound was a muzzle report, crouched in terror for up to half an hour, not knowing whether the shots were coming from within the building or outside. The two most seriously injured, secretaries on the 14th floor, were in good condition after receiving treatment for bullet wounds to the upper arm.

Police identified the gunman as former MCA employee John Brian Jarvis, 58, of Pleasanton, who was dejected over his inability to find work.

"He was terminated from the company in 1986 and over a period of years he feels he has been unable to get a job," Lt. Daniel Lang said. "So he has acquired a frustration level and channeled all of his anger to MCA."

Jarvis' landlord in Pleasanton said the alleged gunman had hardly worked since leaving MCA, and his mother had died in March, leaving him alone, broke and distraught.

Lang said Jarvis told detectives that he also fired at the next-door Bank of America because he owed an undisclosed amount of money to the bank.

"He owed outstanding debts," Lang said. "So he fired rounds at Bank of America too."

So placid was the gunman's demeanor Tuesday, and so unremarkable the sound of the rifle shots, that people on the sidewalk took little notice through most of the volley.

Dozens of witnesses watched in almost curious disbelief minutes before 10 a.m. as the gunman parked a brown and white station wagon in an alley about 200 yards from the building, placed his bottle on the cab and opened fire with the Remington bolt-action hunting rifle in a staccato rhythm, stopping briefly to load a new magazine.

When a solitary police black-and-white drove up behind him and ordered him to surrender, the gunman put the weapon down, took one more drink and calmly gave himself up.

"It was like he was out shooting ducks on a summer's day with a bottle of bourbon," said Tom Rowland, an MCA employee who watched the shooting from the balcony of an adjacent building.

The bullets shattered at least 20 windows on most of the top seven floors.

"People just walked by as if to say: 'Oh, some guy is shooting. It's L.A.,' " Rowland said.

Tony Labate, a Universal Studios editor who watched the commotion from across the street as he walked to the Bank of America next to the MCA tower, said cars and pedestrians continued right in front of the shooter.

"Suddenly somebody screamed: 'Run for cover!' " he said. "It was funny because everyone was running in different directions because they didn't know where it was coming from."

Diane Delano, a Universal Studios stunt woman and nearby resident, said that at one point she saw the gunman look a pedestrian right in the eye.

"He stopped and acknowledged him and then started shooting again," Delano said.

"He was perfectly calm," said Lorna Scott, another resident. "That's why we didn't think he was shooting real bullets. He looked over at me and smiled and then started shooting again."

Inside the tower, about 40 employees on the 10th floor felt no alarm even as the bullets crashed through the windows below them.

Feature casting director Valerie McCaffrey had just left her Tuesday morning creative meeting two buildings to the south and walked to the tower to see her boss on the 10th floor.

She was talking on the telephone when she began to hear an unusual sound.

"It sounded like the crack of a whip," McCaffrey said. "It didn't sound like a gunshot. I thought, it must be some construction downstairs. It kept happening. It was really intense."

Finally, a bullet pierced the window near her, leaving a baseball-sized hole.

"People screamed. The gunshot was so loud we thought the guy was on the floor," she said.

Three more bullets came through, one hitting a filing cabinet on the wall opposite the window.

"It was unbelievable," McCaffrey said. "I thought our lives were over. Somebody said: 'Go to the center of the room.' We crawled on our knees. We shut all the doors of all the offices."

They all huddled, afraid to move, for 15 minutes before someone came to say the shooter had been captured. A woman on the floor was hit by a piece of glass, McCaffrey said.

Four floors above, two women were hit by bullets in quick succession.

Executive secretary Dixie Tung, 41, of North Hollywood heard another secretary, Nettie Marie Gilreath, say shots had been fired.

"Ironically, she walked toward the window," Tung said. "I went to get her. The next thing I knew, immediately she was on the floor." Gilreath was hit by flying glass. Tung was shot twice in the arm.

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