ST. LOUIS – A man killed the mother of his child Tuesday, then went to the catering company where he once worked and fatally shot two women and himself, police said.
One other woman was shot at Finninger's Catering Service and was in stable condition, police said.
Among the dead was an owner of the company, but her elderly husband and business partner may have been saved by a quick-thinking employee who hid him in a walk-in cooler as the rampage unfolded.
Police said Herbert Chalmers Jr. killed 53-year-old Sylvia Haynes at her apartment Tuesday morning. Hours later, he was overheard bragging about plans to kill his boss, then went to the catering company.
Chalmers and Haynes had a child together, but the state of their relationship was unclear Tuesday, police said.
One of the women killed was 79-year-old Cleo Finninger, who ran the company with her husband, Charles, said Susan Akscin, the woman's niece. The other was their adult daughter, 44-year-old Christine Politte, who oversaw payroll, authorities said. The company is on the northwest edge of St. Louis and employs about 50 people.
Both women were shot in a garage area, police said. The shooter killed himself in the parking lot.
Police and co-workers described Chalmers as a disgruntled former employee. Some workers said that he may have been angered after being told his wages would be garnisheed for child support, and that he may have been fired after failing to show up for work a day earlier.
Employee Colette Meissner said she was in the kitchen when she heard shots and the gunman screaming the names of people he intended to kill.
He shouted "Charlie," referring to Charles Finninger, Meissner said. The elderly owner was in a wheelchair, and Meissner pushed him into a walk-in cooler.
They huddled with another employee and listened as Chalmers kept shooting, Meissner said.
"I shut the door and we all stood in there and prayed," she said. "We were scared to death."
The employees who were killed were fleeing with other workers out the back of the shop, police said.
Chalmers was overheard in a Wal-Mart store bragging that he planned to shoot his boss, Brown said. Wal-Mart employees told police.
Shots were being fired at the catering company as police arrived about 1:30 p.m., Brown said. Chalmers was using a semiautomatic handgun, authorities said.
Employee Dawn Flowers, still wearing her red apron, cried as she recalled seeing Chalmers enter through a rear door carrying a duffel bag and a coat over his arm. She believed the coat was hiding the gun.
"I was hid; I was in the back cooking," Flowers said. "He came through the back door just past me."
Employee Martin Lee said Chalmers had worked at the business for a couple of years. "He seemed like a pretty nice guy," Lee said.