SAMSON, Ala. – The gunman who killed 10 people and committed suicide in a rampage across the Alabama countryside had struggled to keep a job and left behind lists of employers and co-workers he believed had wronged him, authorities said Wednesday.
The lists found in Michael McLendon's home included a metals plant that had forced him to resign years ago and where he ended up killing himself Tuesday to end the rampage, District Attorney Gary McAliley said. Also on the list were a sausage factory from which he suddenly quit last week and a poultry plant that suspended his mother, McAliley said.
The pages torn from a spiral notebook included names of co-workers who he felt had wronged him, including one who reported him for not wearing ear plugs, another who made him clean a meat grinder and a supervisor who didn't like the way he cut pork chops, McAliley said.
"We found a list of people he worked with, people who had done him wrong," said McAliley in an interview outside the charred house where the rampage began.
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Investigators offered no immediate explanation for why McLendon targeted relatives and others who weren't on the list as he fired more than 200 rounds in a roughly 20-mile trail of carnage across two counties near the Florida state line.
The district attorney said a piece of paper found in the house he shared with his mother also included the names of nine lawyers in the area. He said McLendon apparently wanted to hire a lawyer in a dispute with members of his family over getting a family Bible returned to him, but details weren't clear.
McLendon began his killing spree across three southern Alabama communities by burning down his home, and ended it by taking his own life at Reliable Metals, where he worked until 2003. McAliley said he believes McLendon had planned more violence at the Pilgrim Pride plant in Enterprise, where his mother worked, and the place he recently quit, Kelly Foods in Elba.
McLendon's complete work history wasn't immediately known, but he left the metals plant in Geneva in 2003 and apparently worked at Pilgrim's Pride before joining the sausage factory in 2007.
Lt. Barry Tucker of Alabama Bureau of Investigations said at a news conference that McLendon was "somewhat depressed about job issues" but that investigators don't believe the shootings were job-related.
"There's no specific indication of 'This is why I did it,"' said Tucker who wouldn't release a motive.
Federal court records show McLendon and his mother are among Pilgrim Pride employees who filed a lawsuit in 2006 against the Pittsburg, Texas-based poultry firm over claims of unfair compensation. A company spokesman did not immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment.
The district attorney said records found in the home indicate Lisa McLendon was accused of misstating her hours but was due to resume work March 17. The company wouldn't comment on the reason she was suspended.
In the span of about an hour, McLendon, 28, set his home on fire, killed five relatives and five bystanders and committed suicide in a standoff at the plant.
"The community's just in disbelief, just how this could happen in our small town," said state Sen. Harri Anne Smith, from the nearby town of Slocomb. "This was 20-something miles of terror."
At a prayer service at First Baptist Church of Samson, Rev. Steve Sellers made no attempt to explain what would drive someone to commit such an act.
"Father, there are times in life when we don't have answers to the question why," Sellers said to several hundred people in the church, where sobs could be heard. "I don't know what set a young man off like that, but I too want to pray for his family."
It was not clear how long McLendon had been planning the attack, but authorities said he armed himself with four guns — two assault rifles with high-capacity magazines taped together, a shotgun and a .38-caliber pistol — and may have planned a bigger massacre than he had time to carry out.
"I'm convinced he went over there to kill more people," said Sheriff Dave Sutton.
The shooting was the deadliest attack by a single gunman in Alabama history, and plunged Samson, a community of about 2,000 where McLendon grew up and where most of his victims lived, into mourning.
The town is so close-knit that the mayor coached McLendon in T-ball when he was a boy, and the dead included the wife and daughter of one of the sheriff's deputies who was sent to chase McLendon.
As word about the killings spread, graduates of the local high school scrambled to find their yearbooks, and many realized they knew the gunman.
"Something had to snap," said Jerry Hysmith, 35, who worked with McLendon at the metals plant in 2001.
Among the dead were some of the very people who might have helped explain what set off McLendon — his grandmother, his mother, an uncle and two cousins.
This much is clear: McLendon had a hard time keeping a job over the years, and had been forced to resign from his position at a local Reliable Metals plant in 2003, authorities said. Investigators would not say why.
That year, he tried to join the police academy, but lasted only a week before flunking out, authorities said. His next known job came in 2007, at a nearby sausage plant operated by Kelley Foods.
The company said he quit last week but was considered a team leader and was well-liked by employees.
The rampage started around 3:30 p.m., when McLendon put his mother on an L-shaped couch, piled stuff on top of her and set her ablaze, authorities said. Before he left, he also shot four dogs. Investigators did not immediately say whether the woman was dead or alive when the fire was set.
Inside the charred home, a gun safe was left with its door ajar, and military gear, including a camouflage jacket and green military-style backpack, was found about the home. In another room, remnants of his baseball career, including a 1995 All-Star trophy, were prominently displayed.
McLendon then drove a dozen miles and gunned down three other relatives and the deputy's wife and daughter on a porch and shot his grandmother at a house next door, sending panicked bystanders fleeing and ducking behind cars. His uncle's wife, Phyllis White, sought refuge in the house of neighbor Archie Mock.
"She was just saying, `I think my family is dead. I think my family is dead,"' Mock said.
McLendon went inside the house and chased his aunt out before driving off, said Tom Knowles, who was at his son's house nearby and saw the shooting. Knowles said McLendon returned moments later in his car as if looking for the aunt, then turned and looked at Knowles.
"He had cold eyes. There was nothing. I hollered at him. I said, 'Look, boy, I ain't done nothing to you,"' Knowles said. McLendon then left for good.
Then, McLendon shot three more people at random as he drove toward the metals plant, firing from his car.
At the metals plant, McLendon got out of his car and fired at police with his assault rifle, wounding Geneva Police Chief Frankie Lindsey, authorities said. Then he walked inside and killed himself.
The victims included the wife and 18-month-old daughter of sheriff's Deputy Josh Myers, who was sent to chase McLendon. Myers did not know then that his wife and daughter were among the dead. His 4-month-old daughter was wounded in the attack.
"I cried so much yesterday, I don't have a tear left in me," said Myers, who did not know McLendon. "I feel like I should be able to walk in the house and my wife would be there, my baby girl climbing on me."