Originally created 09/17/97

Workers struggle with grief

AIKEN - R.E. Phelon Co. employees and their neighbors came together Tuesday night to cut and fold black ribbons in memory of four co-workers killed in Monday's shooting spree.

It was the start of the healing process. There was a lot of hugging and crying among the 50 or so people who gathered at the Holiday Inn Express on Whiskey Road.

"I didn't lose anyone Monday. But in times of tragedy, the community should pull together. And as a member of the community, it's my loss too," said Brenda Quick of Aiken.

By the end of today, every Phelon employee, nearly 500, should be given a ribbon. After that, ribbons will be distributed to area businesses to be handed out.

"This effort tonight shows that we do live in an All-America city. Even in the best of families, there is tragedy. These people have put their lives aside to show support for the employees," Mrs. Quick said.

Fighting back tears, company President Dale Phelon announced at a news conference earlier Tuesday a schedule for workers to report to the plant today, when they will be taken by bus to a nearby church for two- to three-hour counseling sessions.

Plans to reopen the plant are on hold until employees can deal with their pain, Mr. Phelon said.

"This is going to be tough, guys," he said. "We've got a lot of healing to do. Our hearts go out to the families of the victims."

First-shift employees are asked to report by 8 a.m., second shift at 4 p.m. and third shift at midnight, Mr. Phelon said. Company officials didn't disclose the location of the church where the counseling sessions are planned.

Mr. Phelon's comments were the first official statement from the company since Arthur Hastings Wise, a disgruntled former machine operator for the company, walked into the plant Monday at 3 p.m. and began shooting.

Four employees were killed: Sheryl Wood, David Moore, Leonard Filyaw and Charles Griffith. Three others were wounded.

Autopsies done in Newberry on Tuesday showed that Ms. Wood was shot three times, Mr. Moore and Mr. Griffith twice, and Mr. Filyaw once, according to Aiken County Coroner Sue Townsend.

Mr. Moore and Mr. Filyaw worked as tool and die makers. "They were shot at their own work stations," the coroner said.

On Tuesday, John Mucha was listed in fair condition and Lt. Stan Vance, security guard for Phelon, was in serious condition at Aiken Regional Medical Centers. Jerry Corley was treated at the hospital Monday and released.

Mr. Wise's condition was upgraded Tuesday from critical to serious. He was taken to Aiken Regional Medical Centers after swallowing an unknown substance, officials said.

"I don't know what he ingested. I have asked and have not found the answer," said Lt. Michael Frank, spokesman for the Aiken County Sheriff's Department. "Whatever he took made him very, very sick. I don't know if it was something in the plant or something he brought with him or something he ingested before he got to the plant."

Mr. Wise, 43, of North Augusta, has been charged with one of the murders. However, charges are pending on three more counts of murder, three counts of assault and battery with intent to kill, six counts of possession of a pistol while committing a violent crime, and second-degree burglary. Other charges also may be added, Lt. Frank said.

Sheriff Howard Sellers offered more details Tuesday about what happened as Mr. Wise emptied his weapon on former co-workers. Police said they recovered the weapon, described as a 9 mm handgun or possibly a Russian-made gun similar to a 9 mm.

"There were a number of employees who engaged in heroic acts," the sheriff said. "There were some real heroes in terms of caring for fellow employees."

He refused requests to be more specific.

Mr. Wise drove through the main gate about 3 p.m. Monday as workers were preparing for a shift change, Sheriff Sellers said. Mr. Wise parked his two-door red Saturn, got out and shot Lt. Vance at the guard house.

Mr. Wise then walked through the door to the human resources office, where he found Human Resources Director Charles Griffith, Sheriff Sellers said. Mr. Griffith was shot and killed.

He then walked onto the plant floor "where he passed up some individuals and shot others," Sheriff Sellers said. Police haven't offered a motive, although several Phelon employees said Mr. Wise was upset at being fired about two months ago and threatened to come back to the plant.

Mr. Wise worked for Phelon for about four years, Lt. Frank said.

The sequence in which the next victims were hit isn't clear. But Mr. Moore and Mr. Filyaw, who were working in the tool-and-die area, were shot and killed. Mr. Corley and Mr. Mucha, who were working near each other in the tool-and-die shop, were wounded.

Ms. Wood, who was a quality assurance worker, was found dead in the rear parking lot.

"The woman may have been shot in the building and someone in their effort to give her aid tried to get her out of the building," Lt. Frank said.

At some point, Mr. Wise walked upstairs to the quality assurance office where police found him at about 5:20 p.m., more than two hours after the 911 emergency call came in to authorities at 3:07 p.m.

South Carolina Bureau writer Chasiti Kirkland contributed to this article.


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