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Police report details ABB shooting chaos
ABB details

Police report details ABB shooting chaos

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ST. LOUIS • Police answering a 'shots fired" call at ABB Inc. on a frigid morning last January faced a chaotic life-and-death race to stop a wildly firing gunman while providing escape for workers in a huge and unfamiliar industrial setting.

It was a day of hard-learned lessons for a department where only half the officers were trained for "active shooter" intervention, 911 operators were overwhelmed with information and something as simple as building access posed a formidable obstacle.

A 150-page report delivered to the Board of Police Commissioners on Tuesday and an interview with Chief Dan Isom provided the fullest telling yet of bravery and frustration in the face of one the biggest challenges the department ever faced.

Isom spoke proudly of officers who set aside their own safety to rescue the wounded and trapped. And he explained that every officer now has the preparation to intervene in a rampage in progress.

The 10-month study was intended, in part, to provide insight to why Timothy Hendron, 51, an ABB employee for about 30 years and former supervisor, took two handguns, a shotgun and a rifle to work about dawn Jan. 7 and fired more than 100 shots at 23 people, killing three and wounding five.

Indeed, the reports released Tuesday painted Hendron as an increasingly frustrated character who believed his resistance to management made his home and car a target for vandals.

They quote one worker who escaped harm that day, Jeff Ray, as telling detectives, "We should have seen it coming."

But police saw nothing coming when three cars answered a 'shots fired" call at 6:34 a.m. They arrived to find vehicles racing away, two of them under fire, with no clear distinction between attacker and victims. Officers with guns drawn warily approached once those vehicles stopped, and found they were driven by wounded employees, one dead behind the wheel.

Attention turned back to the 764,000-square-foot structure where ABB makes transformers for power companies and where a killer on the loose knew all its hiding places. Terrified employees found their own refuge, some huddled together on the roof on a 17-degree snowy morning with wind gusts to 34 mph.

It was 2½ hours before Hendron was found sitting dead in an office chair, with a pistol at his feet and a self-inflicted gunshot wound under his chin. Cautious bomb squad officers searched his body and car outside with a robot, in case he left booby traps. He had worn earplugs.

It was six hours more before teams of city police, St. Louis County police, Missouri state troopers and agents from the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives determined that the complex was clear of attackers and victims.

"I don't think people recognize how much courage that takes to go into a building when you don't know where the suspect is," Isom said Tuesday. "I'm proud of the report as well as our response afterward to do some things immediately to improve."

Among the concerns still under study:

• Dispatchers were inundated with 911 calls, many from people trapped inside the building who had long conversations to help pinpoint the gunman's location. The department fears that valuable information was lost when some callers never got an answer or were switched to recordings.

• Police broadcast search information on open radio channels that they feared might help a gunman with the right scanner. Hendron had none. There also was concern that the sound of the belt radios of approaching officers could have tipped him to their movements.

• Hendron's rifle and shotgun were more firepower than many of the pursuing officers had. Isom would like to see larger-caliber riles in patrol cars, but that is limited by the budget.

• Locked exterior doors were hard to breach, requiring officers to obtain pass cards from fleeing workers. Isom would like to buy forcible entry tools for each district.

Police Capt. Michael Sack said investigators interviewed 56 witnesses and studied dozens of pieces of evidence to try to assemble a picture of what happened that day.

Among those questioned was Kathleen Hendron, the shooter's wife.

"She's a victim in some sense herself," Sack said. "This is not something you'd ever expect a loved one to do."

She told police her husband had been "ostracized" at ABB for trying to start a union and for participating in a lawsuit against ABB over its pension plan. She told police he was worried about his impending performance as a witness in the case in Kansas City four days later.

The morning of the shooting, Hendron left a Post-It note on their refrigerator at home in Webster Groves. It read, "I love you both," and was a common gesture toward her and their teenage son.

Sack said: "The one question we were hoping to answer was why. He left no notes. He confided in no one. ... We don't know why he did it, but the end result is that he did."

Police learned during the interviews that one worker, Stephen Sharp II, went to his truck to retrieve his .380-caliber Walther PPKS pistol. Sharp fired all six shots trying to hit the gunman but didn't, and himself was seriously wounded.

Multiple employees told detectives that Hendron had been a sociable, joking man who turned sullen over the previous year. Some said he changed after the shift he supervised was eliminated, sending him back to an administrative job in which he hated his boss, then back to ordinary labor. They said he was passed over as supervisor when the shift was restored.

One co-worker and self-described close friend, Kevin Podolski, told police Hendron "kept to himself and was prone to outbursts of anger." The report continued, "Podolski also advised that he has believed for a long time that Timothy H. was capable of doing something like this."

Rick Lawrence, a company supervisor, told investigators that Hendron 'seemed disgruntled and agitated much of the time."

Investigators determined that Hendron bought the .45-caliber and .40-caliber pistols in 2008 but bought the 12-gauge pump shotgun and rifle in separate stores, in Hazelwood and Fenton, the day before the attack.

It appeared that at least two of the dead were particular targets. The storage room where Hendron's boss, Cory Wilson, 27, of Collinsville, tried to hide was riddled with bullets. One witness said Hendron bent down near the face of the mortally wounded Terry Mabry, 55, of Moscow Mills, and screamed as he fired some more. Also killed was Carlton J. Carter, 57, of St. Louis, the man dead in his car.

Hendron not only shot at people in the plant, but also at the cars of some as they fled. In some cases he fired at strangers.

One of the first officers on the scene, Lt. Alana Hauck, recalled the episode in an interview with a reporter Tuesday. She said she had heard the shots at North Patrol headquarters, near the plant.

"I will never forget as I'm driving there, I am hearing gunshots," she said. She formed a team of about a half dozen young officers and told them, "We're going to go in."

One warned her, "You stay here, ma'am, you could get shot," she said.

"I'm not the type that can sit out, and I would never forgive myself if I didn't go in and one of them was injured," she remembered answering.

"The heroics of the officers was just amazing," Hauck said. "You're pumped up on adrenaline the entire time and focused on getting to the shooter, don't think of anything else. I got home, and my 4-year-old daughter comes and gives me hug. ... That's when it hits you, This guy had a high-powered rifle, the worst could have happened, and I could've never got that hug."

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Related to this story

Don and Vickie Wilson kept quiet about their depression, Don's suicide attempts and the marital troubles that have consumed them since the January shooting.

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