Washington–A gunman killed five co-workers at one of America’s best-known breweries on Wednesday before turning the weapon on himself in the latest burst of mass gun violence in the US.
More than 1,000 employees were at the Molson Coors brewing complex in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, when the early-afternoon tragedy occurred, the city’s police chief Alfonso Morales told reporters.
He said officers found the suspect, a 51-year-old local man, dead from an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Morales later said the suspect was a Molson Coors employee.
Mayor Tom Barrett said five other people, all workers at the facility in the northern US state’s biggest city, were killed.
“They thought they were gonna go to work, finish their day, and return to their families,” Barrett said at the press conference.
President Donald Trump earlier gave the first official word of the toll.
“A wicked murderer opened fire at a Molson Coors brewing company plant, taking the lives of five people, a number of people wounded, some badly wounded,” Trump said at a press conference about the new coronavirus.
US media including ABC News and the local Fox affiliate reported the shooter had been fired earlier in the day from the beer giant, which owns the Coors and Miller brands.
The local CBS affiliate said the shooter appeared to have stolen the nametag of another employee, then returned to the office complex with a gun. But The New York Times quoted Representative Gwen Moore, a Democrat whose district includes Milwaukee, as saying the gunman was an employee who was in uniform.
Molson Coors, a Canadian-US company, said it was working with the police department, adding: “Our top priority is our employees.”
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel quoted the husband of a brewery employee, Lasonya Ragdales, as saying she was informed by the company of an active shooter on the premises, and was texting him while locked in a room with co-workers.
Nearby schools were also placed on lockdown, and local teacher Bre Townsend told AFP she could see police vehicles from a window.
Known until last year as MillerCoors, the brewer announced in October that it would undergo a large restructuring and officially changed its name to Molson Coors Brewing Co.
It also moved its North American headquarters office from Denver to Chicago and shifted hundreds of corporate office jobs to Milwaukee, a city of about 600,000 people on Lake Michigan.
The company was expected to cut 400 to 500 jobs throughout the organization during the restructuring.
“We are a family here at Molson Coors in Milwaukee, and this is an unthinkable tragedy for us,” the company’s president and CEO Gavin Hattersley said at another press conference late Wednesday.
The scene of the shooting is known locally as the “old Miller” brewing company, Morales said, and has been around for 165 years, according to Barrett.
It was the latest in a long list of gun-related violence in the US, which saw a record 417 mass shootings in 2019, according to the research group Gun Violence Archive.
A more narrow definition, a database maintained by The Washington Post, lists 175 mass shootings in which four or more people were killed since 1966. Incidents have become more frequent and more deadly, the data show.
Democrats, who control the House of Representatives, made gun control one of their priorities but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would only bring a gun bill to the floor if it has presidential backing, but Trump has given no clear preference.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi offered condolences to the Milwaukee victims and called out McConnell.
“The American people are tired of Leader McConnell’s deadly obstruction,” Pelosi said. “House Democrats will continue to join them to advance a drumbeat of action across the country until McConnell takes up these critical bills and we end the gun violence epidemic once and for all.”
Democratic presidential hopefuls including Pete Buttigieg and Senator Elizabeth Warren also weighed in with renewed calls to end to gun violence.
And in Wisconsin, a Republican state legislative leader appeared to close the door on the Democratic governor’s demand to tackle gun reform, according to the Journal Sentinel — just about an hour before the shooting.