KANSAS CITY, Kan. – For the families of roughly 160 employees of the ConAgra Foods Inc. (search) plant, Friday night was filled with fear and frustration.
Just after 5 p.m., drawn by news reports that a man had opened fire on his co-workers during a dinner break at the plant, they started gathering outside the plant's front gate -- husbands, wives, children, sisters, brothers. Police said the gunman killed four of his co-workers before killing himself. A fifth victim died early Saturday; two others were wounded.
In the moist evening heat, loved ones got little news from police officers. Some worked cellular phones, checking with other family members if they had heard anything or dialing the mobile phones of those within the plant.
Aaron Hughes, whose daughter, Erica, has worked at the plant for three years, stood with others, waiting for word.
"I'm nervous and scared," Hughes said. "This is short of hell. I'm hoping my daughter's OK."
While officials were tightlipped on who and how many were injured or killed, some word apparently got out. One group of women screamed "Lonnie! Lonnie!" before collapsing on the asphalt and slamming their hands on car hoods. Friends rushed them from the scene.
Lonnie Ellingburg, 46, was identified Saturday as one of the victims. The others were Travis Nelson, 23; Leonardo Rodriguez, 49; Ardell L. Edwards, 55, the worker who died overnight; and a Mexican national who was not identified.
About 7 p.m. Friday, police told relatives to go to a community center a couple of miles away where buses would soon take the workers.
Many, like Hughes, wouldn't move.
"I'm going to look through the windows (of the bus) to see if I see her," he said.
Inside the plant, tensions were just as high, said Elva Hernandez, a union steward who said she wasn't working near the shooting when it started.
"Someone yelled out at us, 'There's been shots,"' Hernandez said. "Everybody panicked, but they got out safe. We kept saying, 'Keep exiting, keep exiting; don't look back."'
Standing in the parking lot, a few workers carrying cell phones passed them around so others could call loved ones and tell them they were safe.
Hernandez said she didn't know the shooter but that others she knew said they had had drinks at a nearby bar with him Thursday and he seemed normal.
"Everybody says he was a nice person," she said, tears running down her face. "He stayed by himself, but no one can understand why he did this. Sometimes, people click."
At the center, family members were ushered away from reporters to meet with counselors and police chaplains. Some vented frustrations.
"This is ridiculous," said Rob Thompson as he paced outside the center, cigarette in one hand and a cell phone in the other, waiting for news about his wife, Lisa. "They're not telling us anything."
Susan Avila was one of the lucky ones. Her daughter, Veronica Ebeling, had been able to call her on a security office phone as officials were hustling employees out of the plant.
But three hours had gone by and still no word on where Ebeling was.
She said she had heard that witnesses of the shooting would be held longer for questioning by investigators.
"Hopefully, she didn't see anything and she'll be on her way here," Avila said. "I've got to see it for myself. I'm staying here."
About 9:45 p.m., Thompson's cell phone rang. Lisa was on the other end, saying she was safe and SWAT team (search) members had escorted her to her locker to retrieve her phone.
"I've been worried sick," he said, eyes watering, before hanging up. "Amazing. I've never heard a more beautiful sound."