MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — An Israeli immigrant who started a signage company in his basement and spent decades building it into a successful business was among five people slain by a fired employee at a Minneapolis workplace, authorities said.
Also killed were an avid sculptor and painter with a day job there and a UPS driver who made pickups and deliveries to the company for years. Police said he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Six people — including the suspected gunman — were shot to death Thursday afternoon at Accent Signage Systems, located in a quiet residential corner of northwest Minneapolis. Police say Andrew Engeldinger, 36, was fired from the company that afternoon and responded by fatally shooting others there before he turned the gun on himself in the building’s basement.
Among those killed were Reuven Rahamim, 61, the company’s founder; Rami Cooks, 62, of Minnetonka; Jacob Beneke, 34, of Maple Grove; Ronald Edberg, 58, of Brooklyn Center; and Keith Basinski, 50, a Wisconsin native who was the UPS driver.
No details were immediately released about why Engeldinger was fired, but Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan said it appeared he singled out some victims and spared others. Engeldinger’s family offered sympathy to the victims in a statement through the National Alliance on Mental Illness. It said he had struggled with mental illness for years.
“This is not an excuse for his actions, but sadly, may be a partial explanation,” the statement said.
Rahamim’s family asked that the focus of the tragedy be on those killed rather than the gunman. Rahamim’s son-in law, Chad Blumenfield, wrote in an email that he was born and raised on a farm in Israel and was a soldier in the Israeli Army before leaving for the U.S. after the Yom Kippur War, which occurred in 1973.
“He loved spending time with his children and grandchildren and especially loved to take his grandson for bike rides,” Blumenfield wrote.
Beneke had a wife and a young son, said Lorrie Link, who heads the Maple Grove Arts Center. She said Beneke was a volunteer there, where he displayed his work and promoted the work of other artists in the suburb northwest of Minneapolis.
Beneke’s Facebook page said he worked as digital imaging manager at Accent Signage Systems.
“He was just a very cool guy. He was very creative and expressive,” Link said of the New Albin, Iowa, native. “His sculptures and paintings and drawings made us laugh.”
Basinski was a Wisconsin native dedicated to the Green Bay Packers. Dolan said he likely wasn’t one of the gunman’s primary targets but was killed simply because he happened to be there.
Minneapolis Police Capt. Amelia Huffman said the scene at Accent Signage Systems was “very chaotic” and that it was taking time for police to put together a comprehensive chronology. She said there were more than 20 people scattered in the building when Engeldinger began firing, and witnesses only saw bits of what happened.
Huffman said police believe Engeldinger got a letter of reprimand in the mail and came into the office Thursday afternoon. At that point, he was terminated.
“From the best we can tell, the incident started right after Mr. Engeldinger had been fired,” Huffman said. She said there was a struggle in the office and shots were fired, which employees elsewhere in the building heard. Dolan said Engeldinger used a 9mm Glock semi-automatic pistol he had owned for about a year.
“And Mr. Engeldinger left the back office area and fired additional shots throughout the building,” she said. Victims were shot throughout the building, she said.
Police said the first 911 calls came in about 4:30 p.m. Thursday. Initially, three officers responded; Dolan said the shooting was over by the time they got there, and they entered the building to find a scene he described as “hellish.” Dolan said those three officers were put on leave to give them time to recover.
“This scene is by far the most traumatic these officers have ever encountered,” Dolan said.
It took officers a long time to secure the very large building, he said. The company had no security, and Dolan said tactical units found two people hiding “a very long time” after the attack began.
Later Thursday, SWAT teams and investigators searched Engeldinger’s home in south Minneapolis. There they found a second gun and packaging for 10,000 rounds of ammunition in the house.
“He obviously had this gun and was practicing how to use this gun,” Dolan said.
Sue Abderholden, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness’ Minnesota chapter, said Engeldinger’s family had sought help from the group two years ago, with his parents taking a 12-week course on recognizing and dealing with mental illness.
She said their concerns were “much more centered around paranoid thoughts. No violence or anything like that.” The Engeldingers were not able to convince Andrew to seek treatment, she said.
Andrew Engeldinger’s uncle, Joe Engeldinger of New Germany, Minn., called his nephew a “good kid” who broke the hearts of family members when he broke off contact with them about two years ago.
“When I would see his family, I would ask them about Andy and nobody could ever tell me anything,” Joe Engeldinger said.
Chuck and Carolyn Engeldinger raised Andrew and his two siblings in the Minneapolis suburb of Richfield, Joe Engeldinger said.
“He wasn’t a monster. He wasn’t,” Joe Engeldinger said. “He was a real good kid, a real good person. He had a real good heart. I don’t know what made all this transpire. Hopefully the truth will come out and won’t get twisted into some demented thing.”
The Minnesota Bureau of Labor and Industry said it was the deadliest workplace shooting since the agency began tracking such events in 1992. No more than two workers had died in such a shooting before this week, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
Associated Press reporter Martiga Lohn contributed to this report.