By Jessica Gresko and Desiree Hunter
SAMSON, Ala. — Deputy Joshua Myers was headed home in his police cruiser when he got a call that officers were chasing a man who'd fired on a trooper.
Myers joined in the pursuit of a gunman who turned out to be responsible for the worst mass shooting in Alabama's history, arriving at a metals plant where officers exchanged gunfire with the shooter.
Myers thought of his young family and called a friend to check on them. The friend told him simply: "Get home now."
That was the first indication that Myers' own wife and daughter were among the 10 people Michael McLendon killed before taking his own life.
Andrea D. Myers, 31, and 18-month-old Corrine Gracy Myers were gunned down while visiting neighbors across the street.
The deputy hasn't been allowed back to that blood-soaked porch. Now he's left to care for a young son and his 4-month-old daughter, Ella Grace, who was injured in the shooting. She was in fair condition at a Florida hospital, awaiting surgery for a leg wound.
"It still seems like I should be able to walk in the house and my wife should be there and my baby girl should be in there climbing on me," Myers said Wednesday, the morning after the shootings. He did not know the shooter. "I never in my life am gonna be able to fully understand it."
Andrea and Corrine Myers died alongside McLendon's uncle and two of his cousins, on the porch next door to McLendon's grandmother, who also was killed.
A witness said they had no time to react as their kin wordlessly and expressionlessly pulled the trigger, killing all of them.
The hourlong rampage began when he killed his mother and set her house ablaze, and he would kill three others seemingly at random and spray more than 200 bullets before shooting himself at the Reliable Metals plant in Samson.
Puzzled investigators found several clues as to what set off the rampage in these rural communities near the Florida state line - but the people who might be able to explain are all dead. Authorities hoped a list found in the charred skeleton of McLendon's home might give them insight into what happened.
"We found a list of people he worked with, people who had done him wrong," said Coffee County District Attorney Gary McAliley.
The lists included a metals plant that had forced him to resign years ago and where he ended up killing himself Tuesday to end the rampage, McAliley said. Also on the list were a sausage factory from which he suddenly quit last week and a poultry plant that suspended his mother, McAliley said.
The pages torn from a spiral notebook included names of co-workers who he felt had wronged him, including one who reported him for not wearing ear plugs, another who made him clean a meat grinder and a supervisor who didn't like the way he cut pork chops, McAliley said.
A co-worker at the sausage factory, Jerry Hysmith, said McLendon was shy, quiet and laid-back.
"Something had to snap," said Hysmith, 35, who lives in Samson, and worked with McLendon in 2001.
McLendon was briefly employed by the police department in Samson in 2003 and spent about a week and a half at the police academy, dropping out before he received firearms training, said Col. Chris Murphy, director of the Alabama Department of Public Safety. More recently, he worked nearly two years at food manufacturer and distributor Kelley Foods in Elba, about 25 miles north of where he shot most of his victims.
The company didn't specify what his position was, but said in a statement that he was a "reliable team leader" who was well-liked. McLendon quit last Wednesday.
Though Kelley Foods said he left voluntarily, the company was on the list of those the gunman felt slighted by, McAliley said. So was the Reliable plant, and a Pilgrim's Pride plant near Enterprise where his mother had worked. The district attorney said the mother had recently been laid off from the plant.
The other victims were identified as McLendon's mother, Lisa McLendon, 52; his uncle, James Alford White, 55; his cousin, Tracy Michelle Wise, 34; a second cousin, Dean James Wise, 15; and his grandmother, Virginia E. White, 74. Also killed were James Irvin Starling, 24; Sonja Smith, 43; and Bruce Wilson Malloy, 51.
The first killed Tuesday was McLendon's mother. Authorities said he put her on an L-shaped couch and set her afire. He said McLendon also shot four dogs at the house.
A dozen miles away, he gunned down the other relatives and sent panicked bystanders fleeing and ducking behind cars. His uncle's wife, Phyllis White, sought refuge at a neighbor's house after being chased out of her house.
McLendon returned moments later in his car as if he were still looking for her. Neighbor Tom Knowles then made eye contact with him.
"He had cold eyes. There was nothing. I hollered at him. I said, 'Look, boy, I ain't done nothing to you,'" Knowles said. McLendon then left for good.
McLendon shot more victims at random as he drove toward the metals plant where he once worked. Smith was struck down as she walked out of a gas station. Malloy was hit while driving. Starling was shot as he walked.
At the Reliable plant, McLendon got out of his car and fired at police with his assault rifle, wounding Geneva Police Chief Frankie Lindsey, authorities said. He then walked inside and killed himself.
Once investigators got a look at the ammunition he was carrying, they feared the bloodshed could have been worse. "I'm convinced he went over there to kill more people. He was heavily armed," said Coffee County Sheriff Dave Sutton.
Back at the house, "the only thing that was alive was the 3-month-old baby," Ella, who lay bleeding, said Knowles. Myers, the deputy, and his neighbors are still trying to absorb the shock.
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"I don't know what else to say," Myers said. "Just keep praying for my baby girl."