HENDERSON, Ky. — A 25-year-old press operator shot and killed five co-workers and himself at a plastics plant in rural western Kentucky just hours after arguing with his supervisor about not wearing safety goggles and using his cell phone while on the assembly line, police said Wednesday.
Authorities said Wesley N. Higdon of Henderson was so riled by the argument with his supervisor that he called his girlfriend and told her that he wanted to kill his boss. The girlfriend didn't warn anyone, police said, and just two hours later he argued with another co-worker at a gas station near the plant, then returned and shot and killed his supervisor as they walked outside. He went back inside and shot at co-workers in a break room and on the plant floor.
A man who called 911 frantically described the violent scene early Wednesday to a dispatcher, tallying up the number of dead around him.
"There's more than two people dead. There's like one, two, three, four, five people dead," the man said. "The supervisor is dead, too."
Authorities said Higdon was known to keep a .45-caliber pistol in his car, which is not illegal in Kentucky.
The first shooting took place as the supervisor was escorting him from the building. Other co-workers were shot in the break room and on the plant floor. One worker was injured and was being treated in the critical care unit at St. Mary's Hospital and Medical Center in Evansville, Ind.
"He just walked in, looked like he meant business and started shooting at everybody," Henderson Police Sgt. John Nevels said at a news conference.
The killings stunned the Ohio River town of about 28,000 people, where a local leader said many residents know or are related to a worker at the plant. The plant, operated by Atlanta-based Atlantis plastics, employs about 160 people and makes parts for refrigerators and plastic siding for homes.
Henderson County Coroner Bruce Farmer identified the supervisor as Kevin G. Taylor, 30, of Dixon. The slain co-workers were Trisha Mirelez, 25, Rachael Vasquez, 26, and Joshua Hinojosa, 28, all of Sebree; and Israel Monroy, 29, of Henderson. The hospitalized survivor was identified as Monroy's sister, Noelia Monroy.
"Our whole community is in shock," Henderson County Judge-Executive Sandy Watkins said.
The plant sent employees home Wednesday, but the company said that it hoped to resume limited operations at night. Atlantis Plastics CEO Bud Philbrook told The Associated Press that the company was reeling.
"It's just total shock. It's something you read about in the paper," Philbrook said.
Investigators were trying to piece together the timing of the shooting spree. Philbrook said that Higdon didn't appear to have any previous disciplinary problems at the plant.
Four of the victims were members of St. Michael's Catholic Church in Sebree, Ky., said the Rev. Jason McClure, who had spent much of the morning with the victims' families.
"They are very upset and hurting deeply and just trying to figure out what to do next," McClure said.
A prayer vigil was held for the victims Wednesday night at the Henderson County Courthouse.
Atlantis Plastics said on its Web site that it is a leading U.S. manufacturer of three kinds of products: polyethylene stretch films for wrapping pallets of materials, custom films for industrial and packaging uses and molded plastic pieces used in products such as appliances and recreational vehicles.
The company has annual sales of $110 million, according to business directory Hoovers.
"This is a devastating loss to this community which we have been a part of for more than 40 years," Philbrook said in a statement late Wednesday. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families and we will work with them to provide our help and support."
Associated Press writers Harry Weber in Atlanta and Bruce Schreiner and Rebecca Yonker in Louisville contributed to this report.