Ex-Employee Kills Himself, Former Girlfriend at Work

Marla Alicia Gaura, Marshall Wilson, Chronicle Staff Writers

Saturday, August 23, 1997

© 1999 San Francisco Chronicle

URL: http://www.safegate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/1997/08/23/MN2783_DLT

A former worker at a Santa Clara high-tech firm forced his estranged girlfriend into a company computer room and shot her before killing himself yesterday, authorities said.

Kenneth M. McMurray, a former independent contractor at NEC electronics Inc., and Maria Elizabeth Lualhati, an associate systems programmer at the company, both apparently died of gunshot wounds, police said.

Lualhati, 33, of Los Gatos, who also was known as Elizabeth Lagman, was the mother of a young child, co-workers said. She had worked at the company for almost a year.

The apparent murder-suicide occurred at an NEC sales office after McMurray arrived there shortly before 9:45 a.m. and forced Lualhati into a computer room.

The 34-year-old Los Altos man had worked as a contract employee for the office but was let go about four months ago, the company said. NEC did not say what kind of work he had done and gave no reason for his departure.

After the two had been in the computer room for some time, the manager opened the door and asked whether everything was OK. The man told the manager to get out and flashed a pistol, said Santa Clara police Lieutenant Walter Rees.

The manager backed away, ordered employees out of the building and called police.

Police arrived at the office at 3033 Scott Blvd. at 9:51 a.m. A SWAT team suited up and entered the office in a crawl space above the suspended ceiling. Once officers reached the area above the computer room, they pulled aside ceiling panels and saw the two bodies on the floor.

The evacuated workers did not immediately know of the hostage situation but were calmly asked to go outside and then later told of the armed intruder, according to Joe Totary, owner of a restaurant across the street.

"There was no panic, but people were worried and upset, "Totary said. "The workers sat at the tables out front and waited to see what would happen. It went on for hours.

"At about noon, one of the girls came in crying and saying. ’He killed her, he killed her," Totary said. It is so sad, a tragedy."

The apparent murder-suicide revived memories of a shooting in 1988 at ESL Inc., a Sunnyvale defense contractor where Richard Wade Farley, a Spurned suitor, shot and killed seven people. He was a technician at ESL when he fell in love with an engineer. When she did not return his affection, he began terrorizing her and was fired.

The woman was seriously wounded when Farley, loaded down with guns and ammunition. burst into ESL and began shooting people indiscriminately.

There have been 46 deaths related to domestic violence in Santa Clara County since 1993, according to the district attorney’s office.

In California, homicide is the leading cause of death in the workplace, said Robert Dorsey of the Santa Clara County Domestic Violence Council.

Nearly 20 percent of women murdered on the job are killed by someone they know, such as a current or former husband or boyfriend, said Rebecca Speer, a consultant on workplace violence prevention and management.

She said employers are not expected to guarantee employee safety from violence, but they should prepare themselves to better handle threats to employee safety from violence.

That is because courts are increasingly holding companies liable for not preventing incidents of violence that are "legally foreseeable," Speer said, and also for failing to properly manage threats and incidents of violence that come to light.

A consultant on business and labor relations yesterday said companies can help employees who are being harassed by being open to workers’ troubles. Supervisors need to be sensitive to warning signs, such as an employee who suddenly appears troubled or frightened, said Conley Baker, regional manager for the Employers Group, a consulting firm.

"They can let an employee know that if they are being harassed, they can help," Baker said.

One option is to help the worker obtain a restraining order to keep the batterer away from the workplace, he said. The company can also allow the employee to work flexible hours so the batterer will not know when she is there, Baker said.

After yesterday’s shooting, about 50 NEC workers were welcomed into the Muslim Community Association Center next door. They were offered food, drinks and moral support, said center director Muhieddine Maaz.

"We provided a place to go, and some privacy, and a place to pray," Maaz said. "People were so concerned, and they didn’t want to go too far away. But they didn’t want to be on the street and have to deal with the cameras.

By 1 p.m., the association had set up a fund for the victim’s young child and collected $1,000 to kick it off.

NEC Electronics is the American affiliate of NEC Corp. of Japan. The shooting took place at a small satellite office housing sales and design development. Company officials were unable to say yesterday how many employees worked in the office.

NEC workers were offered grief counseling, and workers from the office where the shooting took place where told to contact their managers before returning to work Monday.

For more information about the trust fund for the victim’s child, contact Muhieddine Maaz at the Muslim Community Association, (408) 970-9333.

Chronicle staff writer Carolyne Zinko contributed to this report.

© 1999 San Francisco Chronicle Page A1