ST. LOUIS — A disgruntled worker embroiled in a pension dispute with his company walked into the plant and opened fire Thursday, killing three people and wounding five before apparently killing himself.
The shooting spree at ABB Group's plant sent frightened co-workers scrambling into closets and to the snow-covered roof for safety.
Fire officials identified the shooter as 51-year-old Timothy Hendron of Webster Groves. Police would not release his name but said a man believed to be the gunman was found dead inside the plant from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
"We're very confident that this is the shooter," Police Chief Dan Isom said at a news conference.
The shooting began at 6:30 a.m. at the plant where the Swiss-owned company makes electrical transformers. Police spent hours inside the sprawling plant searching for the gunman and additional victims.
The motive for the shooting wasn't immediately known. But in 2006, Hendron and other ABB workers sued the company over retirement losses. The federal lawsuit accused ABB and its pension-review committee of causing their 401(k) accounts to include investment options with "unreasonable and excessive" - and undisclosed - fees and expenses. The suit went to trial Tuesday in Kansas City.
The shooting began during a shift change at the plant, which employs about 270 people. Forty to 50 employees were likely in the building at the time, police Capt. Sam Dotson said.
It wasn't clear how many shots were fired, but authorities said employees scurried to find refuge from the bullets.
"Many of them sought safety on the roof, in boilers and broom closets," Dotson said.
Names of the victims were not immediately released. Police said three of the injured were in critical condition and two were in fair condition.
Fire Chief Dennis Jenkerson said firefighters and paramedics were standing by in case there were additional injuries, either from the shooting itself or from seeking refuge on the roof in bitter cold. The wind chill in St. Louis dipped below zero as gusting winds whipped around 4 inches of new snowfall.
"It's cold, and shock sets in, hypothermia," Jenkerson said. "It doesn't sound good."
Dozens of emergency vehicles circled the sprawling plant. Interstate 70 was closed for about three miles in both directions for several hours while police searched for the gunman in and around the plant.
ABB Group makes power transmission and industrial automation equipment. The company manufactures transformers at the St. Louis site. ABB has operations in roughly 100 countries, employing about 120,000 people. Last October, ABB reported third-quarter earnings of more than $1 billion.
Thomas Schmidt, an ABB corporate spokesman in Zurich, Switzerland, said in statement that the company had received reports of the shooting.
"This is obviously a very serious situation and we are working to gather more information as it becomes available," the statement said. "The welfare of our employees is of utmost importance to us."
Word of Hendron's alleged involvement in the shooting stunned his neighbors in Webster Groves. Many neighbors described Hendron as an amicable family man who kept a well-manicured home for his wife and small boy.
"I couldn't ask for a better neighbor. We never had any problems with him," said Glennon Meyer, a 71-year-old retiree who credits Hendron with friendly gestures ranging from raking Meyer's leaves to bringing over a chocolate cake last Christmas.
A few years ago, Meyer said, Hendron mentioned something in passing about having problems on the job. Hendron didn't elaborate.
"Gee, I've talked to Tim many times, and he never exhibited any mental aberration," Meyer said.
Ron Hawkins, who lives across the street from Hendron's split-level home, echoed that.
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"He seems like a really nice guy," said Hawkins, 72. "I know nothing negative about he and the family."