ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — A man who was fired from a Florida awning factory in April returned Monday with a semi-automatic pistol and methodically killed five people, then took his own life at the sound of an approaching siren, authorities said.
Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings identified the shooter as John Robert Neumann Jr., a 45-year-old Army veteran who lived alone and did not appear to belong to any type of subversive or terrorist organization.
The shooting began after Neumann slipped through a rear door into the cavernous Fiamma Inc. factory, an area larger than two football fields where awnings are stitched together for recreational vehicles. He paused at least once to reload.
“My experience tells me that this individual made deliberate thought to do what he did today. He had a plan of action,” said the sheriff, who wouldn’t say why Neumann was fired. The gunman “had a negative relationship with” at least one of the victims.
“He was certainly singling out the individuals he shot,” Demings said, adding that most victims were shot in the head. Some were shot multiple times.
State and federal law enforcement officers converged on the industrial park in Orlando shortly after 8 a.m. after a woman ran out and called 911 from a tile business across the street, said Yamaris Gomez, that store’s owner.
“All she kept saying was he was holding a gun and told her to get out,” Gomez said.
That woman had been hired after Neumann was fired in April, so he probably did not recognize her and knew she was not a former co-worker, Deming said.
Searching for a motive, deputies cordoned off a trailer park in Maitland, where Neumann lived alone in a mobile home on a busy road next to a funeral home, a used car lot and a dog-grooming business. Like the awning factory, it’s far from Orlando’s famous theme parks.
Deming said investigators also are looking through any social media postings for clues. Neumann was honorably discharged in 1999 and did not have a concealed weapons permit, the sheriff said.
Arnie Boyd, who lives in the same trailer park, said Neumann was not particularly social. “Every once in a while, he would ride his bike around and that’s it,” Boyd said. “We would speak only once in a while.”
The dead were identified as Robert Snyder, 69; Brenda Montanez-Crespo, 44; Kevin Clark, 53; Jeffrey Roberts, 57; and Kevin Lawson, 46.
Authorities had confronted Neumann once before at the factory, when he was accused of battering a co-worker in June 2014. But no charges were filed, and that co-worker was not among Monday’s victims, the sheriff said.
In a 2014 incident report, Neumann’s co-worker said Neumann punched him in the back of the head when he approached, knocking him to the ground. But the co-worker later changed his story, saying that Neumann had chased him and then hit him on the back of the head.
Neumann had a record of minor crimes, none violent, dating back nearly 20 years. Most involved traffic violations — driving under the influence, driving with a suspended license, giving a deputy a false name and leaving the scene of a hit-and-run involving property damage.
Fiamma calls itself one of the largest manufacturers of awnings for camper vans, motor coaches and sport utility vehicles.
Shelley Adams said her sister, Sheila McIntyre, called her from the company’s bathroom during the shooting and kept repeating, “My boss is dead. My boss is dead.”
Officers arrived two minutes after being dispatched, the sheriff said. The FBI also responded, said Ron Hopper, who runs the FBI’s Orlando office.
And while five people were killed, “seven others’ lives were saved due to the quick actions of the officers who arrived on the scene today,” said Special Agent Danny Banks of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Authorities had no reports of any specific threats the gunman made to people at the company or anyone else, but that’s why people need to alert authorities whenever they learn of anything that could lead to violence, Banks said.
“If people see something that seems abnormal, they need to say something,” Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs added.
The latest government statistics indicate that fatal workplace shootings have ticked upward in the United States. Bureau of Labor Statistics data show a 2 percent rise between 2014 and 2015 to 417 cases. Among those, fatal shootings rose more sharply, by 15 percent.
Sen. Bill Nelson called for more action to address mental health issues. He noted that next Monday will mark a year since the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history, at a gay nightclub in Orlando. The attack at the Pulse club killed 49 people and wounded dozens more.
“The city of Orlando, which is still healing from the Pulse massacre, has seen too much violence this past year,” the Florida Democrat said in a statement.
Republican Gov. Rick Scott asked “all Floridians to pray for the families impacted by this senseless act of violence.”
Associated Press Writer Freida Frisaro in Miami contributed to this report.
The story has been edited to correct Jacobs to Orange County mayor, not Orlando mayor, and the spelling of the sheriff’s surname to Demings, not Demmings.