Cops: Employee opened fire after job review

State unemployment agency co-workers escape injury in attack
2010-03-06T00:05:00Z Cops: Employee opened fire after job reviewBy Joyce Russell - joyce.russell@nwi.com, (219) 762-1397, ext. 2222 nwitimes.com

PORTAGE | A 19-year auditor with the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, apparently distraught over a job review, opened fire with a shotgun Friday afternoon on fellow employees at an administrative office at 6224 Central Ave., police said.

No one was injured, and the man, identified as a 60-year-old Portage resident who works as an auditor for the agency, was taken into custody. The man, who police said has no criminal background, suffered minor cuts to his hands and was treated by emergency medical personnel at the scene before being taken to the police station for questioning. Police said the man's name won't be released until formal charges are filed with the Porter County prosecutor's office.

The shooting comes one day after the Indiana House and Senate approved legislation allowing Hoosiers to keep guns locked in their cars while at work. The bill now is in the governor's hands.

In opposing the bill, state Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, had said he believed the legislation would result to more on-the-job shootings.

"I told them this was going to happen," Smith said after learning of the Portage shooting. "It's not a good law to allow people to bring guns that close to work. If you have a chance to go home, you might cool off."

On Friday, 16 employees were in the office in a strip mall located in the downtown area, police said. The suspect had been called into a manager's office for a job review, became upset, left the building and took a 12-gauge semiautomatic shotgun from his vehicle and returned to the building, Portage police Sgt. Keith Hughes said.

Hughes said a manager "had a bad feeling" and ordered employees to lock the door. The suspect fired the first shot at the door, shattering the glass. He entered the building and chased employees out the back doors, firing another shot into the back of the building. He then followed employees as they scattered around the building, returning to the front of the office.

Police arrived, guns drawn. The suspect, who was in the process of reloading his shotgun, said, "I surrender," and he put down the gun, Hughes said.

"He was called in (to the meeting) because of a less than lackluster job evaluation. During the evaluation, he said, 'I don't have to put up with this,' and left. The manager had a bad feeling and locked the door," Hughes said.

Agency employee Fred Gernand, of Fort Wayne, said the group had had a northern district meeting at the office. Some of the employees, who came from as far as Indianapolis and Marion, were having cake to celebrate a peer's retirement when the incident began just after 2:30 p.m.

"I saw one of my co-workers with a shotgun, and I took off," said Gernand, adding he exited the back of the building, circled around the front and hid behind a car when the suspect came back to the front of the building.

"It was very strange. I heard it (the shotgun blast) as I was going out the back door," Gernand said.

Other employees were obviously upset as they stood outside the strip mall, which also includes a Chinese restaurant, nail salon and tattoo parlor.

Marc Lotter, spokesman for the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, said he was relieved no one was seriously injured.

"We're thankful that everyone got out safely," he said. "We're monitoring the situation and cooperating with local police on their investigation."

Mayor Olga Velazquez arrived to talk to the employees and arranged to have representatives of Porter-Starke Services meet to debrief those involved at the police station.

"It could happen anywhere. I'm just grateful no one was hurt," said Velazquez, who commended the supervisor who "had the sixth sense" to realize something was wrong and lock the doors of the building before the suspect could return.

-- Times staff writer Bowdeya Tweh contributed to this report.

The shooting comes one day after the Indiana House and Senate approved legislation allowing Hoosiers to keep guns locked in their cars while at work. The bill now is in the governor's hands.

In opposing the bill, state Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, had said he believed the legislation would result to more on-the-job shootings.

"I told them this was going to happen," Smith said after learning of the Portage shooting. "It's not a good law to allow people to bring guns that close to work. If you have a chance to go home, you might cool off."

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