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Three dead, one critically wounded after shooting in Smithsburg, Md.

Three people were killed Thursday afternoon in a shooting at a manufacturing plant in Maryland, police said.  (Tribune News Service)
By Justin Jouvenal, Jasmine Hilton,Clarence Williams and Peter Hermann Washington Post

Three employees of a concrete molding company in Western Maryland were found dead Thursday following a report of a shooting that left a fourth hospitalized with critical injuries, according to Washington County Sheriff Douglas Mullendore.

Mullendore said the suspected gunman, also an employee, drove away and was stopped a short time later outside Hagerstown, about 10 miles south of the company in the Smithsburg area.

There, said Washington County Sheriff Sgt. Carly Hose, the man exchanged gunfire with a Maryland State Police trooper, who was injured in the shoulder and returned fire. The suspected gunman also was injured. Both were being treated at a hospital and were expected to survive, according to police.

Mullendore identified the victims as Mark Allan Frey, 50; Charles Edward Minnick Jr., 31; and Joshua Robert Wallace, 30. The sheriff identified the suspected gunman as a 23-year-old man from West Virginia but declined to release his name because he has not been charged. Mullendore did not say where the victims resided.

Lt. Joshua McCauley, also with the county sheriff’s office, identified the company as Columbia Machine Inc. The company’s website says it designs and manufactures concrete products including mixers and molds. It serves customers in more than 100 countries and started in 1937.

Attempts to reach a company representative were not immediately successful. A video on its website shows sprawling buildings filled with large machines.

Smithsburg Mayor Donnie Souders said the shooting was a shock for such a small community. The town has a population of about 3,000 and Columbia Machine is roughly 3 miles outside of town.

He did not know the names of the victims, but he was sure they would have connections in the community given its size.

“We are a small town, but we rally when events like this occur,” Souders said.

Souders said he hoped the carnage of recent weeks, not just in his community but across the country, will spur lawmakers in D.C. to pass new legislation on guns.

“I think we are at a point where we need to balance those liberties versus the safety,” he said.

The shooting in Maryland is the latest in a series of mass shootings that has occurred across the country and prompted a nationwide discussion on access to firearms. A succession of mass shootings started in May at a Buffalo, New York, supermarket that left 10 dead, followed by a shooting in Uvalde, Texas, that left 21 dead, including 19 students. That was followed by another shooting at a hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma, that left four people dead.

The shooting at Columbia Machine occurred about 2:30 p.m., authorities said. Deputies responded to the 12900 block of Bikle Road, east of Hagerstown near the Pennsylvania border. Hose said deputies responded to what was reported as an “active shooter.”

Mullendore said Thursday evening that the Smithsburg Police Department arrived first and found an injured person in a field outside the business.

Lt. Norman “Bill” Dofflemyer, chief of the Maryland State Police Criminal Investigation Bureau, said three state troopers traveling on Route 66 toward the scene encountered the suspect’s vehicle. Dofflemyer said that when the troopers attempted to stop the vehicle, the gunman opened fire. The troopers fired back, hitting the suspect.

Troopers found a handgun in the vehicle, according to Dofflemyer.

“Right now, we’re working with the Sheriff’s office on why it happened, and why it kept escalating,” Dofflemyer said.

Mullendore said the weapon used at both scenes was a semiautomatic handgun but did not release the make and model. A motive for the shooting is under investigation, Mullendore said.

“My sincere condolences and sympathies go to the families of all those involved in today’s incident,” Mullendore said. “It’s certainly a tragic incident here in Washington County.”

The FBI’s Baltimore field office’s evidence response team was at the scene, according to a spokeswoman. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives also is assisting.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said he was devastated by the news out of Smithsburg, noting it “comes as our state and nation have witnessed tragedy after tragedy.”

He added in his statement, “I am committed to meeting your pain with action” to address the “daily toll of gun violence on our communities.”

Local elected officials described the area as tightknit, where residents are deeply involved in school issues and have an all-volunteer fire department, which they point to as a commitment to the community.

Hours after the shooting, officials and residents awaited answers for the violence Thursday.

“People are still trying to figure out what happened, why it happened, who is involved,” said Maryland state Sen. Neil Parrott, R-Washington.

“Smithsburg is one of the best places to live in the entire country,” he added. “Given the nature of this community, people are going to wrap their hands around each other, encourage each other and come together as a community.”

U.S. Rep. David Trone, D-Md., who represents Smithsburg in Congress, said the latest tragedy underscored the urgency of both the gun-safety package that passed the House this week and making a major federal investment in mental health.

“Shame on us if we allow this to continue,” he said. “We’re better than that as a country. These families will never be the same again, in Buffalo, in Smithsburg, in Texas; none of them will ever be the same. It’s been going on since Columbine. When is America is going to say enough is enough?”

Trone said he was pleased that the more modest Senate negotiations on legislation responding to the mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde – and now Tulsa and Smithsburg – included a substantial mental health component but said Congress can’t “put our head in the sand” on guns.

“Frankly, I’m all done with thoughts and prayers. This is a time we’ve got to stand together and we’ve got to make some hard decisions,” Trone said.

State Sen. Paul D. Corderman, R-Washington, said that before Thursday’s incident, residents had been seeking answers surrounding a shooting at a mall Wednesday. Elected officials came to the scene to offer support to victims, first responders and the community, he said, but he believes society needs to take tougher approaches to dealing with violence.

“When violent individuals commit violent acts, we need to hold those individuals accountable for those acts,” Corderman said. “Accountability and responsibility is something that has been lost, not just here in Maryland but throughout this country.”

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The Washington Post’s Erin Cox, Alice Crites, Monkia Mathur, Ian Shapira and Dan Morse contributed to this report.