July 4, 2004 in Nation/World

Packing plant killer seemed to choose victims, police say

Heather Hollingsworth Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Denise Pledger, left, comforts her cousin Deya Barnett outside the ConAgra Foods plant in Kansas City, Kan., Saturday. Barnett’s father, uncle and cousin were among those killed during a shooting in the plant on Friday.
(Full-size photo)

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Elijah Brown’s co-workers always had a hard time making sense of him. He paced, he talked to himself, he got bothered over teasing that wouldn’t faze other people.

Questions about the 21-year-old meatpacking-plant worker grew exponentially Saturday, after he used two handguns to shoot seven co-workers, killing five of them, before killing himself.

Police did not offer a motive for Friday’s 10-minute rampage, but said there appeared to be nothing random about the killings at the Kansas City, Kan., ConAgra Foods Inc. plant. They said he passed by some co-workers, telling them, “You haven’t done anything to me, so you can go.”

“This person acted with purpose, he knew exactly what he was doing,” Police Chief Ron Miller said.

Three of those killed were members of an extended family, and a relative said Brown had had an argument with one of them.

Lonnie Ellingburg, 46, was an uncle by marriage to Travis Nelson, 23, both of Kansas City, Kan., and a nephew to Ardell L. Edwards, 55, of Grandview, Mo., relatives said.

“We’ve got to get ready for a triple funeral – my daddy, my uncle, my cousin,” said Ellingburg’s daughter Deya Barnett. “A triple funeral, we have to get ready for. It don’t make no sense. We just need time.”

Miller said Brown also shot and killed Leonardo Rodriguez, 49, of Kansas City, Kan.; and a 45-year-old Mexican national whose name was not released pending notification of his family. Four victims died at the plant, and Edwards died hours later at a hospital.

Wounded were Juan Ramirez, 44, of Kansas City, Kan.; and Victor Coggs, 60, of Harrisonville, Mo. A spokesman at The University of Kansas Hospital said Coggs was treated and released Friday night, while police said Ramirez’s injuries were not life-threatening.

Ellingburg’s brother-in law, David Pledger, of Kansas City, Kan., said there had been a “tiff” between Travis Nelson and Brown. He speculated that the other two victims were “probably just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Brown, of Kansas City, Kan., had no criminal record, but co-workers described him as strange. He was often teased at work, but not for anything in particular, said Kain Peterson, a plant worker.

“Basically,” Peterson said, “anyone else could throw it off.”

Plant worker Andre Porter, an acquaintance of Brown’s who sometimes offered him rides, chatted casually with Brown in the locker room before the shooting started. Porter now thinks Brown had gone there to retrieve his guns.

A short time later, Porter heard popping noises in the hallway and saw Brown approaching him.

“I said, ‘Elijah, what are you doing popping off firecrackers?’ ” Porter said. Brown took off running, and Porter said he found Nelson’s body covered in blood in the hallway a short time later. The rest of the victims were shot in the plant break room.

Porter said he doesn’t know if the friendly chitchat with Brown saved his life. “He was in his own world,” he said of the gunman.

Police on Friday night described Brown as a disgruntled employee, and Miller wasn’t willing to speculate beyond that assessment on Saturday.

“There is in some respect a reason this person did it, but why exactly that happened or what pushed him to do that, we really don’t know,” Miller said.

Brown had been laid off from the plant, but returned to work a few months ago, ConAgra spokeswoman Julie DeYoung said. The shooting started after an afternoon meeting, but Miller said witnesses told police there had been no arguments.

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