Originally created 09/16/97

4 killed in Aiken County shooting;suspect caught by SWAT team

AIKEN - Leila Duncan ran for her life when she saw a gunman Monday in the hallways of R.E. Phelon Co.

"He said he would be back," Ms. Duncan said. "He passed me. I saw the gun. Thank God he didn't say anything to me, because he probably would have shot me, too."

Four people were killed and three were wounded when the shooting broke out shortly after 3 p.m., just as shifts were changing at the plant. Three of the bodies were found in the tool and die and human resources departments. A fourth victim was found in the rear parking lot.

"One of those shots could possibly have been for me," the assembly worker said. "I just ran for my life when I heard the shots. People were running as fast as they could, yelling `Get out! Get out!"'

The accused gunman, Arthur Hastings Wise, 43, of North Augusta, was listed in critical condition at Aiken Regional Medical Centers late Monday after ingesting an unknown substance, possibly a drug.

Mr. Wise had been fired from the plant within the last few weeks, plant employees said.

Aiken County Coroner Sue Townsend identified the victims as David Moore, 30, of North Augusta; Esther Sheryl Wood, 27, of Bath; Charles Griffith, 50, of Columbia; and Ernest L. Filyaw, 31, of Warrenville. Ms. Wood's body was found in the parking lot, Ms. Townsend said.

The killings came almost exactly one year after Mark David Hill opened fire in the South Carolina Department of Social Services office in North Augusta, leaving three people dead.

"I thought, `My God! We did this same thing last year,"' Mrs. Townsend said.

Lt. Stan Vance, a 49-year-old security guard from Jackson, and John Mucha, 60, of Aiken, were listed in serious condition at Aiken Regional with gunshot wounds. Lucius Corley, 44, of Graniteville, was treated and released, authorities said.

Five other employees were treated and released with minor injuries, hospital officials said.

Police were releasing only sketchy details late Monday as they worked to piece together the sequence of events. The 911 emergency call came in at 3:07 p.m. to the Aiken County Sheriff's Office.

Within minutes, an army of law enforcement officers responded from the sheriff's office, the State Law Enforcement Division, the FBI, the Aiken and North Augusta public safety departments, Aiken County Emergency Medical Services and the Edgefield County Sheriff's Department.

Helicopters hovered overhead at the plant and state agents brought in an armored car.

Employees at Phelon, which manufactures ignition systems and flywheels for lawn equipment, said they could have predicted the shooting spree.

Margaret Drafts, who works in the plant's payroll department, said she had spoken with Mr. Wise frequently on the phone about payroll deductions.

"He had applied for several different positions in tool and die and quality assurance departments and he didn't get them," she said. "I never thought he would have done that. He was always pleasant to me."

"When he was fired, he said this wasn't the end of it. Nobody paid it any attention," Angela Humphries said.

Others heard the same thing. "He told them it wasn't over. He'd be back," Lisa Beck said.

Lt. Michael Frank, spokesman for the sheriff's office, confirmed that Mr. Wise was a former employee of Phelon. He wasn't aware of how long he had worked at the plant or the reasons for his dismissal.

"We were told an individual showed up at the plant, walked inside and began shooting," Lt. Frank said. "We don't have information on whether it was a random shooting or if he had targets."

The gunman drove to the plant, parked his red two-door Saturn and pointed a weapon at Lt. Vance, the sheriff's spokesman said. He shot and wounded the guard and headed for the main door.

Mr. Wise cut the telephone lines before entering the building, Ms. Duncan said.

Eyewitnesses said they fled the plant, scrambling for doors as other workers and supervisors came through shouting, "There's a man with a gun."

Two people were shot to death in the plant's tool and die area, one in the human resources department and one in the back parking lot, Lt. Frank said.

Carol Woody said she was walking toward the personnel office when Mr. Wise ran by.

"He pushed me out of the way," Ms. Woody said. "He went in the human resources door. A gun was in his left hand. I could see the gun. I know the gun was black. He's a big man."

A lot of employees said they felt lucky to get out alive. Bruce Mundy, who works in the flywheel department, was standing next to a woman who was shot.

"He killed everybody," Mr. Mundy said as his mother held tightly to his arm. They were standing outside the Golden Pantry, milling around with a couple of hundred other employees and relatives looking for their loved ones after the shooting.

Vernelle Weaver heaved a sigh of relief when she found her husband, Jimmy, outside and safe.

"When I came up I didn't see him," she said. "All kinds of things were going on in my head."

Danny Goldston said the man next to him was shot.

"I didn't know the guy," he said. "I heard popping sounds. I seen a flash from a pistol. Then I left."

With most of the employees evacuated after the shooting, Lt. Frank said the sheriff's entry team and state agents' SWAT team began searching each section of the building for Mr. Wise.

As the search proceeded, two men and a woman were hiding under desks on the first floor, communicating with a 911 dispatcher by portable telephone. They were found and evacuated.

SLED Chief Robert Stewart said Mr. Wise was found on the second floor near the quality assurance office. The weapon, a handgun, was discovered nearby.

"He said nothing," Chief Stewart said. "He was lying on the floor and there appeared to be something physically wrong with him."

South Carolina Bureau writers Chasiti Kirkland, Pat Willis and John Boyette contributed to this article.


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