MERIDIAN, Miss. (July 8) - A factory worker known as a racist who talked about murdering others opened fire with a shotgun and a rifle at a Lockheed Martin plant Tuesday, killing five people before fatally shooting himself, authorities said.

Dozens of employees at the aircraft parts plant frantically rushed for cover after the gunman started firing in the nation's deadliest workplace shooting in 2 1/2 years. As many as eight people were wounded, some critically.

"At first I thought it was something falling on the ground. Then I walked to the aisle and saw him aiming his gun. I took off. Everybody took off," said Booker Steverson, a Lockheed Martin employee who was helping assemble an airplane when he heard the first shot.

The gunman was identified as Doug Williams, who was an assembler at the plant in this city of 40,000 near the Alabama line. Steverson said Williams, who was white, was known as a racist who did not like blacks.

"When I first heard about it, he was the first thing that came to my mind," said Jim Payton, who is retired from the plant, but had worked with Williams for about a year.

He said Williams had talked about wanting to kill people. "I'm capable of doing it," Payton quoted Williams as saying.

One of those killed was Lanette McCall, a black woman who had worked at the plant 15 years. Her husband, Bobby McCall, said she expected Williams to harm someone someday.

"She said he made a treat against black people," a distraught McCall told reporters.

Four of Williams' victims were black and one was white, but Sheriff Billy Sollie said it appeared he fired at random with a shotgun and a semiautomatic rifle.

"There was no indication it involved race or gender as far as his targets were concerned," Sollie said.

The sheriff said he had no information on whether the gunman had been in trouble with his bosses. "We are not sure if those killed were friend or foe," the sheriff said.

Law officers made vehicles go through checkpoints outside the plant as about two dozen people waited to hear about the fate of their loved ones.

John Willis said he drove to the plant when he heard his brother, assembler Thomas Willis, had been shot.

"They've just had us standing out here," John Willis said solemnly, struggling to find words as he awaited word on his brother's condition.

A worker who did not want to be identified or speak to reporters was offered a cold drink by friends. His hand shook violently as he drank from the plastic foam cup.

It was the nation's deadliest workplace shooting since a software tester in Wakefield, Mass., killed seven people the day after Christmas in 2000.

Officials at the plant declined to comment and a Lockheed Martin national spokeswoman was unable to immediately provide details.

Gov. Ronnie Musgrove said: "Mississippi's family grieves today for this senseless tragedy. My thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of those lost."

Meridian has economy largely dependent on the military. Besides the Lockheed Martin plant, the area is home to naval air station and an Air National Guard training facility.

The Meridian plant employs about 150 people and builds parts for C-130J Hercules transport planes and vertical stabilizers for F-22 Raptor fighter jets.

Lockheed Martin is the largest defense contractor in the United States. The corporation had sales of $24 billion in 2001. It employs about 125,000 people.

AP-NY-07-08-03 1519EDT

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