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Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Anatomy of a nightmare
Tracing events of a tragic Tuesday

By Fredie Carmichael / staff writer

July 13, 2003

A light fog hung over east Lauderdale County minutes before sunrise Tuesday as Pete Threatt pulled up a chair inside the Lockheed Martin plant to finish his Hardee’s breakfast biscuit.

A few miles up the road in North Meridian, Lauderdale County Sheriff Billy Sollie poured a cup of coffee for his wife as he prepared for another day at the sheriff’s department.

In another part of the Lockheed Martin plant, Doug Williams and his girlfriend, Shirley J. Price, just finished eating their breakfast. They punched the time clock and were ready to start work.

Three and a half hours later, their lives changed forever — when Williams opened fire on fellow workers with a 12-gauge shotgun, killing five of them, injuring nine others and then taking his own life.

“It’s difficult,” said Threatt, who pleaded with Williams to stop the shooting spree. “The images of my co-workers being shot at point-blank range is something you won’t ever get out of your mind.”

Since then, Sollie, other law officers, Lockheed Martin officials and workers have tried to piece together exactly what happened that day — including what might have sparked Williams’ actions.

While people still search for a motive, interviews with law enforcement officials and workers at the plant show how an otherwise normal workday instantly turned into chaos.

Friendly talk

8:45 a.m.: Threatt stopped and chatted with Williams after the plant’s 8:30 a.m. break. The two had known each other since they started working at Lockheed Martin in the early 1980s.

For the most part, Threatt said, Williams was a likable guy, someone who “you could hear laughing from across the plant.”

But, Threatt said, Williams was known to be battling depression since a failed marriage in 1989. He also was known to snap at other employees, including making racial comments.

Threatt said he knew Williams also was on two antidepressants, Zoloft and Celexa.

That morning, Threatt and Williams talked about the voluntary overtime shift the two worked two days before. Threatt said Williams “gave no indications that anything was wrong.”

Minutes after talking with Threatt, Williams passed by Brenda DuBose.

DuBose worked near Williams assembling parts for the F-22 Raptor jet. DuBose said she had worked alongside Williams for years and was careful to be friendly to him because he was known to have a violent temper.

Williams reminded DuBose of a meeting the two were scheduled to attend.

“He said, ‘Bren, you know we’ve got that meeting,’” DuBose remembered. “I just looked at the clock and said, ‘Is it that time already?’”

DuBose finished her work, clocked out and headed for a training trailer connected to the plant where she, Williams and about 15 others were scheduled to attend a required annual business ethics class.

But Dubose said Williams stayed in the class for a minute before he left, telling a few nearby employees “Y’all can handle this.”

Nightmare begins

About 9:30 a.m.: Williams returned. He bolted through the classroom door with a semi-automatic rifle strapped on his back, a bandoleer draped across his chest and a 12-gauge shotgun in his hands ready to fire.

One eyewitness said he looked like Sylvester Stallone in “Rambo,” the violent, 1985 movie in which Stallone used an arsenal of weapons to kill Vietnamese and free American prisoners of war.

“He busted in the door and said, ‘I told y’all to stop (expletive) with me. Didn’t I tell y’all not to (expletive) with me?’” DuBose said.

Then Williams fired several shots, killing fellow employees Sam Cockrell and Mickey Fitzgerald.

Other shots struck DeLois Bailey, Charles Scott and Al Collier, seriously injuring them. Steve Cobb, the plant manager, Brad Bynum, Chuck McReynolds and DuBose also were struck by bullet fragments.

A piece of buckshot grazed DuBose’s head and hand, sending blood down her face. Some employees scampered around the floor, taking cover under tables and under chairs.

Williams then briefly left the room, returned and started shooting again.

“That’s when he started calling for Jack Johns,” another employee, DuBose said. “He was looking for him. And I started to crawl around and I was crying out.”

Williams looked down at DuBose and told her “‘Bren, I’m not going to shoot you.’”

Williams left the trailer again. Some employees came out from under the tables. They moved chairs and desks in front of the door to barricade the entrance.

Williams, however, headed for the plant’s main floor.

Terror continues

9:40 a.m.: Sollie sat in his office in downtown Meridian, searching the Internet for information on an upcoming conference designed to prepare law officers for terrorism.

Sollie was trying to determine if he and his deputies should attend the conference.

At Lockheed Martin, Threatt stood on the plant floor and was talking with Williams’ direct supervisor, Jeff McWilliams. Threatt, a union steward, said he was told by McWilliams that Williams left the mandatory class.

“He was talking to me about it when he looked over my shoulder and said, ‘Oh my God!’” Threatt said. “It was Doug. He was jogging through the plant with his guns, heading towards us.”

Threatt ran to Williams and pleaded “No Doug! Don’t do this.”

“I put my hands up and I tried to grab the gun and take it from him,” Threatt said. “I looked into his eyes. Something had snapped in the man. He wasn’t the Doug that I knew.

“Whenever my hand hit the gun, he threw me off like I was nothing. He leveled the shotgun on me and said, ‘Get out of my way or I’ll kill you, too.’ I knew it was for real then.”

Police called

9:43 a.m.: McWilliams and other Lockheed workers immediately called 911.

Back at the sheriff’s department, Sollie was sitting in his office with Maj. Ward Calhoun when the dispatch received the emergency call. Sollie and Calhoun headed for the plant.

Inside the plant, Threatt raced behind Williams and screamed for people to take cover. But that was a tough task — the plant is so noisy that some employees where Williams was headed were wearing ear plugs.

“I was yelling, but it was no use,” Threatt said.

“I was trying to stop him, but he never turned around. He shot three of my co-workers at point-blank range within 25 to 30 feet in front of me.”

Threatt raced to his co-workers’ aid, but they were already dead. Killed were Lynette McCall, Thomas Willis and Charlie Miller. Injured in the firing were Henry Odom and Randy Wright.

Then Threatt and another employee, David Blanks, watched as Williams’ girlfriend, Shirley J. Price, held up her hands and pleaded with him to stop. Williams did.

“We heard another shot. He shot himself in front of her,” Threatt said. “By the time we ran over to her, she was screaming, ‘He’s killed himself. I tried to talk to him and tried to tell him to stop, but he killed himself.’”

Chaotic scene

9:49 a.m.: Sollie and Calhoun arrived at the plant with several other law enforcement officers. They surrounded the building and helped employees seek shelter away from the plant.

“It was chaos,” Calhoun said. “We started yelling, trying to get the employees down the hill.”

Inside the plant, Threatt had heard that co-workers had been shot inside the training trailer — so he headed towards them. There, he said, he watched his fellow employees become heroes.

When Threatt walked in the trailer, he saw Mark Haggard holding pressure on Charles Scott’s injured leg. At the same time, Calvin Driggers ran around helping anyone he could.

Meanwhile, DuBose also was busy. She took off her flannel shirt and used it in an effort to stop the bleeding from Delois Bailey’s side.

“I’m so proud of my co-workers,” Threatt said. “They were all heroes. They were doing anything they could to help their co-workers.”

Uneasy sleep

12 midnight Wednesday: Sollie, physically and mentally drained, sat in bed in his North Meridian home and tried to sleep.

Sollie witnessed the after-effects of the most violent crime he had ever seen. He and his deputies helped to return order to a hectic, chaotic scene at Lockheed Martin.

Sollie also hosted two news conferences and spoke on his cell phone to newspaper, television and radio reporters from around the world about what had happened.

It was the only thing he thought about the entire day. And now he wanted to sleep.

“I finally went to sleep shortly after midnight,” Sollie said. “I woke up at 4:06 a.m. when someone called for another interview.”

A few miles down the road in Marion, Threatt was also trying to get some sleep. But he wasn’t as successful as the sheriff, not after what happened, not after what he saw.

“I haven’t been able to sleep much,” Threatt said.

“I lay there and toss and turn,” he said. “I sit and wonder if there is anything I could have done. It’s hard. It’s so surreal. I don’t think I’ll ever get these images out of my mind.”

© 2003 The Meridian Star  All Rights Reserved.