MILWAUKEE (Reuters) ― Investigators in Milwaukee were searching on Thursday for a motive behind the fatal shooting of five brewery employees by a co-worker who later took his own life in the latest spasm in a wave of gun violence plaguing U.S. schools and workplaces.
Police officers and investigators were seen entering and leaving a ranch house on Milwaukee’s northwest side believed to be owned by the suspect in Wednesday’s shooting at the Molson Coors Beverage Co. complex.
The man’s name has not been made public by authorities. The suspect, who was believed to have acted alone, was described by police as a 51-year-old Milwaukee resident and employee of Molson Coors.
The suspect’s next door neighbor, Erna Roenspies, 82, cried as she stood at her front door, looking at the police tape around her neighbor’s home.
“He was like a son to me,” Roenspies said as she wiped her eyes. “I don’t know what triggered this. Let’s pray for everyone.”
The man, who worked as an electrician at the brewery, lived in the neighborhood for 15 years. He was a good husband and father of three children and helped his neighbor by doing odd jobs and repairs, she said.
“He would come over and fix anything,” Roenspies said. “This is unreal.”
Authorities offered few details of the circumstances surrounding Wednesday afternoon’s shooting and no explanation for what might have triggered the carnage.
“This is a tragic day for our city, this is a tragic day for our state,” Mayor Tom Barrett said outside the landmark facility, known to locals as the old Miller brewery.
Some 1,400 employees work at the Molson Coors (TAP.N) campus, which consists of about 20 buildings. Most were forced to remain holed up inside for several hours as police methodically swept the facilities to secure the property.
Police who stormed the building where the shooting unfolded found the assailant dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, Milwaukee police Chief Alfonso Morales told reporters Wednesday evening.
The bodies of his five victims, also employees of the plant, were found in the same building. It was unclear whether the gunman and his dead co-workers knew one another. The victims’ names were not immediately released.
No one else was injured in the violence, which was confined to the brewing complex, located west of the downtown area, and did not involve members of the general public, Morales said.
The complex, usually bustling with activity, was mostly deserted on Thursday morning, with few cars in the parking lots and a smattering of employees arriving at work.
Last year brought 417 mass shootings in the United States, according to the Gun Violence Archive, the highest annual number since the nonprofit research group started keeping a tally in 2013. GVA defines a mass shooting as any in which at least four people, excluding the perpetrator, are shot.
Wednesday’s shooting, which took place in the largest city in Wisconsin, a swing state in the presidential election, may reignite a contentious debate about gun control as the campaign for the Democratic nomination reaches a pivotal stage. Milwaukee will host this year’s Democratic National Convention.
Democrats have seized on the issue and the country’s epidemic of gun violence, hoping to galvanize opposition to President Donald Trump and most of the Republican Party, which have sought to block tighter gun regulations.
The current front-runner for the Democratic nomination, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of the rural state of Vermont, has come under criticism by his party rivals for what they say is his lukewarm record on gun control.
Trump, acknowledging the shooting on Wednesday as he opened a White House news conference about the coronavirus outbreak, referred to the gunman as a “wicked murderer” and called the gun violence “a terrible thing.”
Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York and Steve Gorman and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Dan Grebler