Psychologists try to make sense of shooting spree in Woodlawn

October 14, 1990|By Rafael Alvarez

What would make a man kill two of his former co-workers, critically wound another and then fire a fatal bullet through his own head?

Simply being fired from a job -- as Wilton "Al" Reed, 25, was before he went on a shooting spree Friday at Fox Chevrolet in Woodlawn -- is not enough, according to psychologists who talked about the tragedy yesterday.

"My goodness, people get fired from their jobs all the time, including being fired under more humiliating circumstances than [Mr. Reed], but they don't go out and shoot people," said Dr. James P. McGee, chief of psychology at Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital. "If being fired was enough to turn healthy people into killers, the streets would be littered with bodies."

Al Reed was fired from his mechanic's job at Fox Chevrolet on Wednesday for allegedly refusing to repair a vehicle on his own time after he failed to fix it earlier, according to company officials.

Two days later, he returned to the large service garage at the Chevy dealership in the 6600 block of Security Boulevard with a 9mm pistol.

He first shot the man who fired him -- David Laird, 35, of Lansdowne -- and critically wounded him. He then mortally wounded general manager William Bishop, 46, and killed mechanic Robert B. Daughton, 38, before turning the gun on himself.

Mr. Laird underwent surgery yesterday at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center to repair his injured head and face, a hospital spokesman said. He was listed in critical but stable condition.

Although former co-workers described the gunman as a polite, soft-spoken man who never gave any sign of violent behavior, Dr. McGee said much more had to be going on inside of Al Reed for him to explode.

Relatives of Mr. Reed who might have been able to answer some of these questions were not at home yesterday, and the Fox dealership was closed.

"You don't look for logic in something like this, it's a crazy, very angry, violent thing to do," said Dr. McGee, a special consultant to the Baltimore County Police Department.

"Although I did not know [Mr. Reed], you would assume that this person really had a chip on their shoulder even if he hadn't acted out before this," he said. "A person who responds catastrophically is typically somebody who has low self-esteem. Being fired only confirms their worst suspicions about themselves. On some level they believe they are not as good as other people and the other people are responsible for that."

Dr. George S. Everly Jr., a local psychologist who specializes in treating trauma victims, said the dozen-and-a-half mechanics who witnessed Mr. Reed's fury -- and one customer who just ducked in time -- may need counseling to cope with what they saw.

"The more unusual the incident the more traumatizing it is likely to be," said Dr. Everly.

Marge Epperson-SeBour, the director of the Maryland State Critical Incident Stress Debriefing team, said many of the witnesses received help from her staff immediately following the shooting. "They might feel angry or withdrawn," she said. "Or just plain feeling overwhelmingly sad."

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