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Man wounds 3 co-workers and then kills himself in Signal Hill

The 68-year-old gunman apparently was upset that his hours had been cut back in a slowdown at printing company.

March 06, 2007|Megan Garvey | Times Staff Writer

A disgruntled employee whose hours recently had been cut back at a Signal Hill printing company shot and wounded three colleagues Monday before fatally turning the gun on himself, police said.

The shooter, identified by authorities as Jose Mendez, 68, of Hawthorne, arrived at Kenyon Press shortly after 9 a.m. Monday armed with a semiautomatic handgun. Because of a companywide slowdown in orders, Mendez had not been scheduled to work for weeks, police said.

Mendez's longtime partner, Gilma Newhouse, 66, said he did not seem agitated when he left their apartment early Monday.

"He only said he is going to go there to see what's happening, and if there was no work no more he would look for another work," she said late Monday.

Witnesses told police that Mendez walked past the supervisor responsible for scheduling and appeared to target three co-workers who shared printing duties with him.

Neil Taylor, who owns Kenyon Press, told police that the men who were shot were friends of Mendez and had helped get him a job there more than a year ago.

Newhouse, who had lived with Mendez for 13 years, said he had last worked Feb. 9 and was worried.

"He loved that work because he says the owner is a very good person," she said. "But he told me he felt like people weren't being honest with him and the owner."

When Mendez didn't come home, Newhouse said she thought he must be working and had started to make dinner when she saw news reports about 3 p.m.

"They didn't say a name but I knew from the description," she said. "I was crying when I heard that."

The wounded, at least two of whom were shot twice, were hospitalized. One victim underwent surgery at St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach, where his condition was described as serious but stable. Two other victims were treated at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center, where a trauma surgeon described them as "very fortunate" to have survived with non-life-threatening wounds.

Authorities learned of the gunfire when a Kenyon Press employee called 911 at 9:08 a.m. after locking herself in an office. She told the operator that she had just seen one co-worker shoot another one.

At neighboring businesses on the largely quiet, industrial block, workers heard gunshots and saw people fleeing the building.

Fred Hernandez was standing across the street outside Reno Hardware and Supply, where he works, when he saw a frantic man running toward him.

"He was all out of breath," said Hernandez, 36. "He let us know that the old man ... came back with a gun and started shooting.... It was one of those situations."

Hernandez and other onlookers said they watched as two bleeding men walked out of the building on their own and a third was carried by officers.

Rey Luna, 34, was across the street looking out the windows of Los Altos Construction when he saw Signal Hill officers and a Long Beach Police Department SWAT team arrive with guns drawn.

"They looked very scared," he said of the Kenyon Press employees, who were ordered out of the building by police and frisked on the street. "Some of them were running."

Police, who did not fire any shots, found Mendez already dead, apparently from a self-inflicted wound, when they searched the building, said Capt. Mary Risinger of the Signal Hill Police Department.

"The owner said it was possible that [Mendez] was upset because [he believed] the hours his co-workers were getting were hours that he wasn't getting," Risinger said.

Taylor told police that Mendez recently had expressed "unhappiness" that his hours had been reduced. He said supervisors had curtailed hours, rather than lay off employees, when business slowed down late last year.

Chris McGoey, who has worked as a business security consultant for 37 years, said incidents of workplace violence are becoming more common.

He said the Signal Hill shooting, however, is unusual because of Mendez's age and the fact that he targeted his friends and not supervisors.

Predicting who will transform from disgruntled employee into someone who will "load up a gun and shoot up a workplace" is difficult, said McGoey, whose company, McGoey Security Consulting, is based in Murrieta. "For most businesses, there's no way of stopping them. We just aren't set up for an armed perpetrator bent on destruction."

At least 14 employees were in the building at the time of the shooting, police said. Taylor, whose company specializes in custom, high-end printing for restaurants and hotels, was not present at the time of the attack. He arrived more than an hour later, and was escorted through the yellow crime-scene tape by officers.

Long Beach Memorial officials identified two of the wounded as Sergio Garcia, 49, and Rafael Mendoza, 46.

Dr. Gergis Ghobrial, a trauma surgeon who treated both men, said Garcia's wounds were to his chest and right arm. He said one bullet passed through Garcia's upper left chest, just missing major arteries. "It's very lucky that he escaped," Ghobrial said.

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