Police: Refugee kills former co-worker, self; injures 3

(Photo: WSLS)
(Photo: WSLS)

ROANOKE, Va. (AP) — A refugee from Kenya killed one former co-worker, wounded three others and then killed himself Tuesday in a workplace shooting that authorities are still trying to unravel in Virginia, police said.

Getachew Fekede, 53, had entered the U.S. through a refugee immigration program and worked for the railcar manufacturer FreightCar America before being fired in March when he stopped showing up for work, Roanoke Police Chief Tim Jones told reporters.

A neighbor told the Associated Press that Fekede quit his job over being harassed by a co-worker. Clarence Jones said Fedeke would send money to his mother back in Kenya and had grown concerned about his finances.

Police said Fekede rode a bicycle to the facility near downtown and somehow entered its paint shop. Officers received a call of shots fired at 6:02 a.m. and arrived two minutes later. But by that time, Fekede had fired 10 rounds from a 9 mm pistol, said Jones, the police chief.

One person died at the scene, and two others suffered wounds to their “lower extremities,” the chief said. A bullet grazed a third person’s chest. Fekede then killed himself, police said.

Two people remain hospitalized. Police said they’re not yet releasing names of the victims because some family members are traveling to Roanoke from out of state.

In a statement posted on its website, Chicago-based FreightCar America said it could not provide specific information about the victims but offered its “deepest condolences.”

The company referred further comment to Jim America, vice president and chief human resources officer, who did not immediately respond to phone calls or an email from The Associated Press.

The police chief said Fekede entered the U.S. in 2011 through a refugee immigration program. He said the incident appears to be work-related but the possibility of terrorism will be investigated. Authorities have already checked his Roanoke apartment as part of their investigation.

“All information at this time points to Fekede acting as the sole perpetrator,” the chief said.

Police said Fekede was terminated in March after failing to show up to work three days in a row. The chief added that Fekede was known as a “hard worker” and was legally working in the United States.

Jones, Fekede’s neighbor, said Fekede complained about a man at work who would intimidate and pick on him. Jones said Fekede transferred departments but ultimately quit when the problems continued.

“He didn’t feel comfortable going to work because he didn’t know what this guy may do to him,” Jones said. “It was just like this guy just didn’t like him,” he said.

Jones added that Fekede was an ‘excellent neighbor’ who never showed any signs of violence.

Police said at least 50 people were in the building at the time of the shooting, although it’s unclear how many were in the paint room with Fekede. The police chief praised the company for its emergency response protocols that helped many escape.

The owner of a nearby bar said he was trying to open up when a police officer told him to go inside and lock the door. Donnie Janney said he didn’t realize what was going on until he turned on the TV in Chap’s Tavern and saw coverage of the shooting.

Janney said one FreightCar America worker came over for a drink after they were allowed to leave the building and looked a little “shook up.”

Janney says he gets a handful of FreightCar America workers as customers and has never seen any trouble over there before.

The company opened the Roanoke facility in 2005. It rents the property from Norfolk Southern, for which it also builds railroad cars.

The Roanoke facility and others have experienced layoffs in recent years in what is a cyclical industry depending on demand and cost. News releases and SEC filings from August said the company would eliminate 15 percent of its salaried workforce and adjust staffing levels for hourly workers.

One worker said he missed a fatal workplace shooting by one minute.

Michael Ewing told WDBJ that warnings of an active shooter came over the facility’s PA system. He and others began to hide.

“I was pretty close,” he said. “I didn’t get to see anything but I was about a minute away from it – from actually being in there.”