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Man Fired From Job Shoots, Kills Six Former Co-Workers

August 28, 2003|Eric Slater | Times Staff Writer

CHICAGO — A man who was fired from his job at an auto parts company six months ago returned Wednesday with a handgun and shot six former co-workers, killing them all, authorities said. He then waged a gun battle with officers before a member of an elite police unit fatally wounded him.

Salvador Tapia, 36, who had been arrested a dozen times on weapons, assault and other charges, died after being taken to a hospital, police said. Four of his victims were pronounced dead at the scene -- shot down among a maze of engine parts, crates and 55-gallon drums at Windy City Core Supply Inc., on the city's South Side. The two other victims died at local hospitals.

Authorities identified the dead as Alan Weiner, 50, of Wilmette, and his brother Howard Weiner, 59, of Northbrook. Howard's son Daniel Weiner, 30, also was killed.

The other victims were Calvin Ramsey, 44; Robert Taylor, 53; and Juan Valles, 34, all of Chicago.

Although Chicago has some of the most restrictive gun laws in the nation, acting Police Supt. Phil Cline, speaking at a news conference hours after the slayings, suggested they don't go far enough.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday August 29, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 37 words Type of Material: Correction
Chicago map -- A map accompanying an article about a shooting rampage in Thursday's Section A showed the University of Chicago at the wrong location. The school is south of 55th Street, not north of 43rd Street.

"The problem here is access to firearms," Cline said. "Here's someone who never should have had a gun, who had a gun. And you get tragic results."

Tapia arrived at Windy City, which refurbishes used car parts, about 8:30 a.m., police said, when all but two of the nine employees were at work. He was carrying a Walther PP .38-caliber semiautomatic pistol.

The chronology of events is still being investigated, but police said that, for reasons still unclear, Tapia tied up one employee but did not hurt him. He then began methodically hunting the others through narrow passageways that wend among thousands of haphazardly stacked auto parts and drums of solvent in the single-story warehouse.

The man who was tied up managed to escape through the only door to the business -- a feature that may have kept the others from fleeing.

"Once [Tapia] is inside and by that front door, he's got them cornered," Cline said.

As the one man escaped, he encountered a colleague who was on his way into work. The two ran to a nearby pay phone and called 911.

The first officers arrived one minute after the call -- less than 10 minutes after the incident began, police said. They found the former hostage, with his hands still tied behind his back, who told them that five of six co-workers inside had been shot and that the gunmen was still in the warehouse.

A few minutes later, after more police units had arrived, eight or nine officers approached the door to the warehouse with their guns drawn, witnesses said. As they crept forward, Tapia appeared at the entry and opened fire, then ducked back into the building, Cline said.

Twice more Tapia came outside, police said, and officers screamed at him to drop his gun; he fired on police instead, and officers shot back before he vanished again.

"We tried to negotiate with him," said police spokesman Pat Camden. "He wanted no part of it."

Police initially told neighbors in the largely industrial area to stay indoors as they cordoned off the block, said Daniel Barlow, a waiter at a nearby restaurant. Then the Hostage-Barricade-Terrorist team arrived -- the same type of unit known as a SWAT team in many cities. As sharpshooters took positions, police evacuated the area, Barlow said, warning that bullets from officers' powerful rifles could easily pass through walls.

Police phoned the auto parts business and tried various ways to communicate with Tapia, authorities said, but he did not respond. Believing there might be employees still alive, police decided to send in the elite team through the one door.

The officers found Tapia hiding behind some boxes. When they told him to drop his gun, officials said, he raised it as if to fire and was shot by police.

Tapia had been fired from the auto parts company for arriving late or not coming to work at all, Cline said, and had made threatening phone calls to at least one of his former bosses. Police did not learn of the calls until after the shootings.

Police said late Wednesday that they were not certain where Tapia had lived and knew little about his personal life. They did, however, know something about his criminal background.

Tapia's string of serious run-ins with the law began in 1989, when he was convicted of unlawfully using a weapon and sentenced to one year of probation. He was arrested at the rate of nearly once a year after that, but he was not prosecuted in most cases because witnesses and alleged victims were reluctant to speak, Cline said.

Four of the arrests were for domestic battery on a woman police said was Tapia's girlfriend and who had declined to press charges.

He was also arrested at least one other time on a weapons charge, twice for aggravated assault, and other times for traffic and other offenses.

Tapia's killing spree was the third mass workplace slaying this summer in the United States.

On July 1, Jonathon Russell, 25, shot eight co-workers, killing three, at the Modine Manufacturing Co. in Jefferson City, Mo. He then killed himself.

One week later, 48-year-old Doug Williams shot 14 co-workers, killing six and then himself, at a Lockheed Martin aircraft parts plant in Meridian, Miss.

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