Deliberately and methodically, a Fresno meat-processing plant employee shot four of his co-workers -- two fatally -- before killing himself Tuesday morning.
One at a time, Lawrence Jones, a 42-year-old with a long trail of criminal convictions, walked up to three of his victims, placed a handgun to each man's head or neck and fired. The noise of the plant, where many employees wear ear protection, might have left them and others unaware of the slayings in their midst, police say.
One woman who did see what was happening attempted to run, Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said. Jones fired at her, shooting her in the buttocks. That was the last shot he'd fire inside the plant. When he placed his gun against the head of another man, he pulled the trigger but had run out of bullets.
Then he went outside, reloaded and shot himself.
When police arrived at Valley Protein, on Hedges Avenue just east of Blackstone Avenue, they found Jones slumped against a chain-link fence along the street outside the plant with the gun at his side and a gunshot wound to the head, Dyer said. He was declared dead in the emergency room at Community Regional Medical Center.
Salvador Diaz, 32, died inside the plant, and Manuel Verdin, 34, died at CRMC. Arnulfo Conrriquez, 28, and Fatima Lopez, 32, were wounded in the attack. Conrriquez was in critical condition Wednesday morning at CRMC with a gunshot wound to the neck, while Lopez, who was shot in the buttocks, was treated for her injuries at the hospital and released.
All were shot with a .357 Magnum 4-shot derringer -- a weapon that Dyer described as fairly rare and expensive. The gun's serial number was filed off, but federal officials are working with Fresno police to determine the gun's ownership, Dyer said.
Investigators were still searching late Tuesday for a reason for the slayings.
Victims not random
The day started like any other at the plant.
The company employs about 100 people and mostly processes poultry and some pork under the Apple Valley Farms name for distribution to food-service outlets that sell to restaurants or grocery stores.
Jones, whom Dyer described as a former parolee with "an extensive criminal history," rode his bicycle to work and started his shift just before 5 a.m. He'd been working at the plant about 14 months.
At about 8:30, Jones walked up to Diaz at his workstation in what is called the "grinding room" of the plant, placed the gun next to his head and fired, according to Dyer, who gave this account of how the shootings unfolded:
Jones "methodically" entered the deboning room, approached Verdin, placed the gun to his head and fired. Then Jones fired at point-blank range at Conrriquez, who was hit in the neck. Lopez was shot as she ran, and police found her outside the plant.
Jones put his gun to the head of a fifth worker, Esteban Catano. But Catano escaped death because Jones' four-shot handgun was out of ammunition.
Both the grinding and deboning rooms are on the east side of the building. Dyer said it did not appear the victims were randomly chosen, because Jones passed by several other workers as he took aim on his targets.
Jones then walked out of the plant, emptied the shell casings from the derringer, reloaded, placed the gun against his head and fired.Workplace horror
A woman who works at the plant but would not give her name clutched a blue sweat shirt to her chest as she described in Spanish the terror inside the plant.
She said through a translator that when she and her co-workers heard the gunshots, "we all threw ourselves to the floor."