Man Fired by Warehouse Kills 6 of Its 9 Employees
He Dies in a Shootout With Chicago Police
By JODI WILGOREN
CHICAGO, Aug, 27 - A man with a long but low-level arrest record returned this morning to the small auto supply warehouse from which he was fired six months ago, killing six of its nine employees, including two of the company's principals.
The police said the man, Salvador Tapia, 36, traded gunfire with officers twice outside the South Side warehouse of Windy City Core Supply and again inside before being killed by one of their bullets. Two employees narrowly escaped. One who had been tied up by Mr. Tapia freed himself, warned the other surviving employee and called 911. The company's president, late to work while taking his daughter to school, also survived.
"It appears he went throughout the supply warehouse shooting them," Philip Cline, the acting superintendent, of the Chicago Police Department, said of Mr. Tapia. "They were not all in one place."
Superintendent Cline described the warehouse as a maze of engine parts, 55-gallon drums, crates and steel containers. "There's really only one way out and one way in other than overhead doors," he said, "Once he's inside and by that front door, he's got them cornered."
The police did not identify the victims, but friends said that brothers who were the other two officers of the company, Alan and Howard Weiner, were presumed dead. The police said that Mr. Tapia had made threatening phone calls to the company's owners since his dismissal for poor performance but that no police reports were filed.
"These are not mean people, these are nice people," said Richard Glickman, a lawyer who had done some work for the company and had known Howard Weiner since they were "brothers" in a social club at Senn High School on Chicago's North Side four decades ago. "They didn't have a lot of employees to begin with. I have no idea what happened here. We'll probably never know."
Windy City, also known in business records as H.A.R. Investment, started up in 1998 and has reported annual sales about $600,000. It buys used auto parts and sells them to wholesale and disappeared again. The man who escaped after being tied had told the police he saw five of his co-workers fall while he was inside and heard more shots after he fled, Superintendent Cline said.
"We made a phone call - there was no answer inside," he recalled. "Because these people had been shot, we decided to make an assault not to negotiate."
There have been more than 10 deadly workplace shootings over the last 15 years, according to Handgun Free America, a group based in Washington. Superintendent Cline said Windy City's was the worst such shooting ever in Chicago.
This summer, a Lockheed Martin employee walked out of a seminar on workplace ethics at a plant in Meridian, Miss., and shot five co-workers just a week after a worker at Modine Manufacturing in Jefferson City Mo., killed three and wounded five of his colleagues. Both gunmen committed suicide.
After threatening phone calls, more workplace gunfire.
Mattie Hunter, an Illinois state senator who represents Bridgeport neighborhood, said she wanted the police to investigate the circumstances of Mr. Tapia's firing.
"How did they do it?" she said. "Did they just say, ‘We're going to fire you?’ Was it done professionally? In today's day, everyone is under a lot of pressure. When someone loses their job, it's a shock and tragedy in itself."
Helen Bruggeman said her husband Robert, the company president, had dropped 14-year-old Courtney at Trinity High School in River Forest, a Chicago suburb and then arrived at the warehouse to find it blockaded by the police.
"I'm ecstatic that my husband wasn't there and we got through it, but I'm devastated for the families, Ms. Bruggeman said.
Superintendent Cline said the incident began about 8:30 a.m., when the police responded to a call of shots fired at the warehouse in Bridgeport, a neighborhood where light industry is surrounded by neat town houses and small apartment buildings and where two generations of mayors named Daley lived most of their lives. About 30 officers from the department's hostage, barricade and terrorist team soon swarmed the scene.
In an afternoon news conference at police headquarters, about a dozen blocks from the warehouse, Superintendent Cline said Mr. Tapia had shot at the officers with a .380-caliber automatic handgun, then retreated into the building, emerged shooting
In Wilmette, a northern suburb of Chicago, the woman who answered the door at Alan Weiner's home, where butterflies cut out of construction paper and a faded pink heart were taped to a window, shooed a reporter away this afternoon. A neighbor, Rochelle Brottman, said Mr. Weiner was a good father to his three daughters, twins of about 20 and an 11-year-old.
"I saw him playing ball with his little girl recently," the neighbor said. "He also went to soccer games with her and to her dance recitals. He was very hard working and got up very early."
The police said Mr. Tapia had been arrested a dozen times over 14 years, mostly for domestic violence, gun possession and driving offenses, though he never served time in jail. His most recent arrest, for domestic battery, was in July 2001.