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Seven Killed, 13 Wounded in Printing Plant Shooting

September 15, 1989

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) _ A man with an assault rifle mowed down co-workers as he went from floor to floor ″looking for bosses″ at a printing plant Thursday, killing seven people and wounding 13 before taking his own life.

Police said Joseph T. Wesbecker, 47, had been on permanent disability, was being treated for mental disorders and reportedly had threatened the company. He carried several semiautomatic weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition.

″I told them I’d be back. Get out of my way, John. I told them I’d be back,″ the gunman told fellow Standard Gravure Corp. employee John Tingle, who approached him before the 30-minute shooting rampage began.

″I said, ’How are you, Rock?‴ Tingle recalled. ″He said, ’Fine, John. Back off and get out of the way ... all the way to the wall.‴

Tingle and other employees nearby then ran into a bathroom and locked the door.

Police searched every floor of the three-story Standard Gravure building for victims. Two were found as officers led Mayor Jerry Abramson through the building, adjacent to The Courier-Journal newspaper.

″We also found a fellow sitting in a corner that was just shuddering in fear,″ Abramson said. ″He hadn’t been shot, but he was in shock.″

Five of the wounded initially were listed in critical condition with multiple gunshot wounds, authorities said, but two were upgraded to serious condition late Thursday. One person who was not wounded suffered a heart attack and was taken to nearby Jewish Hospital.

″It looks like a battle zone ... with the blood and the people involved there,″ Abramson said. ″There were bodies lying across staircases. It was just frightening.″

More than 100 doctors were called in to help treat the wounded, said Dr. Frank Miller, co-director at Humana Hospital-University of Louisville.

Bone specialist Dr. David Seligson said he had not seen such injuries since the Vietnam War in 1970 ″and today brings that all back.″

At 8:30 a.m., Wesbecker entered the building with a duffel bag, an AK-47 semiautomatic rifle, two MAC-11 semiautomatic machine pistols, a .38-caliber handgun, a 9mm automatic and a bayonet, Police Chief Richard Dotson said.

″He was loaded for bear,″ Dotson said. It was unclear how many shots he fired from the AK-47, the same type of gun used by a man who killed five school children in Stockton, Calif., in January.

″At least four of the guns were purchased in Kentucky,″ said Bill Curley, head of the Louisville office of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Curley could not identify the sellers.

Wesbecker took an elevator to third-floor offices, pulled the rifle out of his bag and opened fire, police and witnesses said.

″He was up there looking for bosses,″ Tingle said. ″He couldn’t find none of the bosses and couldn’t find none of the supervisors. He was just in too deep to turn back. So he just shot anything that was close to him.″

Wesbecker worked his way downstairs, shooting people along the way.

″He didn’t fire randomly. He was definitely doing some damage,″ Maj. Ed Mercer said.

Wesbecker eventually ended up in a pressroom in an annex, where he killed himself with a shot under his chin, Dotson said.

″I thought it was firecrackers going off,″ said Bud Graser, a pressman. ″When I saw what it was, I turned around and told everybody to get out of there.″

Ed Green, a supervisor in the plant’s etching room, said he heard at least 20 shots. ″I seen two (victims) and then I got out,″ Green said.

A police officer who knew Wesbecker told Dotson the man had been ″argumentative and confrontational for a number of years.″

″This guy’s been talking about this for a year,″ said Joe White, a Standard Gravure employee. ″He’s been talking about guns and Soldier of Fortune magazine. He’s paranoid and he thought everyone was after him.″

Wesbecker had been on permanent disability, Dotson said.

He reportedly had made threats against the company, which prints newspaper inserts and Sunday newspaper supplements, but Standard Gravure President Michael Shea said he did not know of any threats or the nature of Wesbecker’s disability.

″I’m at a loss to speculate on anything,″ Shea said. ″What’s going through my mind right now is sympathy and caring for the people who are involved.″

The gunman was found face-down in a pool of blood on the floor of a pressroom. The pistol was discovered under his body and the rifle was a few feet away.

Dotson said his officers had come ″close, but not that close″ to apprehending Wesbecker.

A woman who answered the telephone at a house where Wesbecker’s mother was staying said the family did not want to comment.

″We’re just in shock like everybody else. We had to find out over the television. No one called us,″ said the woman, who did not identify herself. ″I guess he was just a sick person. That’s all.″

The newspaper building was evacuated after the shootings. At least two downtown blocks were sealed off and a dozen ambulances lined the streets.

It was the worst one-day mass killing in the United States since Aug. 20, 1986, when a postal worker shot 14 people to death before killing himself at a post office in Edmond, Okla.

On Jan. 17, a 24-year-old drifter opened fire on a Stockton, Calif., schoolyard with an AK-47 rifle and other weapons, killing five children and wounding 29 others and one teacher before killing himself. That prompted a federal ban on imports of AK-47 and other foreign-made assault weapons.

White House spokeswoman Alixe Glen, asked how Thursday’s shooting reflected on President Bush’s policy of banning imports but not domestic semiautomatics, said: ″There’s got to be an end to these tragic incidents and we’ve got to work towards assuring these weapons aren’t falling into the wrong hands.″

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