Gunman kills 1, wounds 3 before shooting self at central Fresno meat plant

Fresno BeeNovember 6, 2012 

One person is dead and three are in critical condition, including the gunman, after a workplace shooting Tuesday morning in central Fresno. Gunfire broke out about 8:27 a.m. at Valley Protein, formerly known as Apple Valley Farms, a poultry processing plant on Hedges Avenue just east of Blackstone Avenue.

Police have identified the shooter as Lawrence Jones, 42, of Fresno, a discharged parolee with an extensive criminal history. He shot himself outside the plant and was described as being in grave condition at Community Regional Medical Center.

Police are trying to find out more about Jones.

"Our biggest hope is that there are not other victims" prior to the shooting, police Chief Jerry Dyer said at a mid-morning news conference held just down the street from the plant.

The chief called the shooting "a tragedy for the city of Fresno."

Police rushed to the plant after the shooting and found Jones lying on a sidewalk with a head wound and a gun nearby.

They also found 32-year-old woman outside the plant with a gunshot wound to the lower back.

Inside the plant, they found a 32-year-old man dead from a gunshot wound to the head. Officers also found a 34-year-old man with a head wound from a gunshot and another 28-year-old man with a neck wound; both were in critical condition at Community Regional Medical Center, where all the wounded were taken.

The woman was in serious condition but is expected to survive.

Dyer said police have "secured" Jones' home and are obtaining a warrant to search it.

"Our biggest hope is that there are not other victims out there" who were hurt before Jones went to work, the chief said.

Dyer said when Jones clocked in to work Tuesday morning, workers said that he "did not appear to be himself."

About 30 coworkers witnessed the shooting at Apple Farms, where 62 people were working when the violence broke out.

Anxious family members surrounded the shooting scene and tried to call and text workers inside. Dyer said that everyone who saw what happened is being interviewed. Several detectives from the department's Street Violence Bureau are on the scene.

Family members seeking information are asked to call (559) 621-2463.

More about the gunman: Dyer said Jones has worked at the plant the last 14 months.

Dyer said Jones clocked in to work at 4:58 a.m., and according to one of his coworkers "did not appear to be himself when he came to work."

Dyer said police were told there was nothing else remarkable, however, until Jones pulled out a handgun and began shooting.

"We're still trying to determine what provoked these actions," Dyer said.

The scene: Dyer said police got several 911 calls at 8:27 a.m. from workers at Apple Valley Farms reporting the shooting. All reports were that a lone gunman had shot several people inside the business.

When the first officers arrived, they found the shooter slumped against a fence near the business with a gunshot wound to the head and a handgun near him.

More about the business: Valley Protein processes poultry products. It was formerly Apple Valley Farms, a meat and chicken processor and distributor. Recent reports were that the company employed about 100 people. Valley Protein focuses on poultry processing, whereas the company used to process chicken and other meats at its Hedges Avenue plant.

Valley Protein distributes chicken products to restaurants and grocery stores under the Apple Valley Farms brand.

Before it was Apple Valley Farms, the business operated as Hestbeck's, a longtime Fresno grocer and meat processor.

Valley Protein founder and general manager Durbin Breckenridge also owns Quality Custom Concession & BBQ Trailers, which makes concession trailers, across the street from the plant.

The company has been a participant in the Fresno Food Expo for the last two years.

Blackstone closed: While police investigate Tuesday morning's workplace shooting, Blackstone Avenue is closed in both directions from Olive to McKinley avenues.

Witness account: Roger Medina said he had just walked into a nearby McDonald's when a man dressed in a meat cutter vest walked in. Medina thought it odd because Halloween is over.

"He said, 'There's a guy shooting people over there,' " Medina said.

Witness account: Jesus Davila said he was at a bus stop on Olive Avenue when someone from a nearby meat factory ran up and said a gunman was shooting people inside.

Then Davila heard a loud gunshot.

"I thought I had been shot," Davila said.

Then he saw the apparent gunman.

Witness account: Joe Martinez, 45, who lives in the Tower District, was in the drive-through lane at McDonald's when he heard a loud pop that he first thought was a car backfire.

Then he looked to the north and saw a man on the ground with two people standing over him.

"It's the last thing you expect to see," Martinez said. "It's very upsetting."

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