Posted on Tue
Posted on Tue, Feb. 22, 2005

SHOOTING

SHOOTING AT NORTHROP GRUMMAN


Suspect is longtime Ingalls worker



Donald Ray "Bubba" Eddins was in critical condition Monday night at Singing River Hospital with family members keeping a vigil in the wake of Monday's shootings at the Northrop Grumman Ingalls Shipyard.

Eddins and Ben Gaffney, both 53 and supervisors in the shipyard's quality assurance department, were shot at work early Monday in and near the Multipurpose Warehouse on the West Bank behind Gate 4 at the yard. Gaffney was in fair condition at the hospital.

Gaffney was shot numerous times in the chest while inside the building. Eddins was shot in the leg and back while running from the building, according to Pascagoula Police Capt. Howard Butler.

Alexander L. Lett, 41, of Moss Point, also an employee of that department, was in custody on $500,000 bond Monday on charges of aggravated assault. Police said late Monday they believe Lett was "dissatisfied with his current work arrangements."

Police said Lett walked into work with his fellow employees in the Quality Assurance Department at about 6 a.m. for the 10-hour work day. The shooting began at about 6:20 a.m. during a meeting involving Lett. Police say Lett shot Eddins and Gaffney with a 9 mm semiautomatic handgun. They did not release the number of bullets that were fired, but said that 30 people were in the immediate vicinity of the shooting.

After Eddins was shot, Lett ran toward the wet dock, police said, where Northrop Grumman employee Leo Coleman talked him out of his gun. Shipyard security took Lett into custody and turned him over to Pascagoula police.

The shooting started on the second floor of the warehouse. Government employees with the Navy Supervisor of Shipbuilding were not at work at their offices on the third floor of the warehouse because it was a government holiday.

"A lot of people heard shots. Someone came through the building yelling 'Get out, get out, he's got a gun,'

" said a Northrop Grumman employee. She said that she and others fled the building.

Another employee said: "I was standing right there. It was loud. There were people running upstairs and people running downstairs."

Employees in the Multipurpose Warehouse and offices were given the option to leave work for the rest of the day Monday, according to Ann Fortenberry, vice president of human resources. They also will be offered counseling, she said, but they will be expected to be back at work today.

Fortenberry said that it was too soon to consider changes in security at the shipyard. Police said they do not know how Lett was allowed to bring a gun into the shipyard.

Lett was a quality assurance inspector for the final stages of production at the yard. He had been employed there for more than 20 years, police said. He has a wife and three children.

His attorney, Calvin Taylor, said that when he spoke with him Monday morning, he was very emotional and unable to talk.

"He's from a wonderful family, hard-working. They are devastated," Taylor said. "They told me he hasn't been in trouble a day in his life. Something was going on."

Members of the Gaffney and Eddins families were equally devastated as they awaited updates of their loved ones in the surgical intensive care waiting room. The two men, both longtime shipyard employees, had worked together for years.

Eddins, of Mobile, was the most critically injured, wounded in the liver, according to his wife, Debbie. His family said it would be touch and go for him Monday night because of excessive bleeding. He had received 17 pints of blood and family members asked the community to pray for him.

Debbie and Don Eddins celebrated their 34th wedding anniversary a week ago, family said. His brother, Bill, described him as a family man who hardly ever missed a day of work.

Holding a business card with Lett's name written on the back, Debbie Eddins looked at the name and said, "I wish he had loved his family enough to leave my family alone."

Gaffney, who was transferred to Neuro Intensive Care Monday afternoon, is from Gautier, where he coached baseball for 20 years. Family friends said Monday was the 30th anniversary of his marriage to Debbie Gaffney.

"He's a strong fellow," said family friend John Bishop, 30. "He has a lot of character."

His son, James Gaffney, said his father was in good spirits, joking when he went into surgery and has been able to talk to the family all along.

Title:Quality assurance project superintendent.

Lives in:Mobile.

Age: 53.

Name: Ben Gaffney.

Title:Quality assurance inspection manager.

Lives in:Gautier.

Age: 53.

One man remains in critical condition.

Suspect in custody on $500,000 bond.


Letter excerpts

Excerpts from a letter Northrop Grumman Ship Systems President Phil Dur sent to employees after the shooting:

"Today, Northrop Grumman and Ship Systems experienced a terrible tragedy, when an employee at our Pascagoula Operations discharged a weapon in his work area, seriously wounding two co-workers. We do not yet understand why this happened...

.

We are very concerned for our wounded co-workers, Quality Assurance Project Superintendent Donald Eddins and Quality Assurance Inspection Manager Ben Gaffney, and their families, and we are doing everything we can to support them. I ask you to join in thought and prayer for their physical recovery and the support they will need to cope with this horrible tragedy. Also, we are mindful of the employees working in the area where the incident occurred - many of whom were witnesses to the tragedy.

The employee accused in this incident is in custody, and our security department is cooperating with the Pascagoula Police Department, who are thoroughly investigating this incident. I commend all of our personnel for their fast and professional actions this morning. This incident also featured heroism and our employees' actions to decelerate and to disarm the threat are very commendable...

I want to assure all of you that your safety and well-being are of utmost concern to me... .

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