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California workplace shooting: Quarry described as 'loving place'

October 5, 2011 |  2:33 pm

Police surround the entrance to the quarry on Wednesday morning where the deadly shootings occurred.

In the high-tech hub of Silicon Valley, Lehigh Southwest Cement’s Permanente plant -- the site of a workplace shooting Wednesday that left three dead and several others injured -- has a storied history that dates to 1939 and is a place where members of the same families have worked for generations.

So workers were stunned by the news that Shareef Allman, 49, a truck driver at the quarry, had shown up at a safety meeting at the plant Wednesday morning armed with a rifle and a handgun and opened fire, authorities said. Three people were killed and six others injured at the facility.

Allman, who remains at large, also shot a Hewlett-Packard employee in the leg and carjacked her vehicle as he fled the scene, authorities said. The shooting victims were taken to Stanford Medical Center and Santa Clara Valley Medical Center.

Photos: Shooting at California quarry

The Kaiser Cement Corp., which owned the plant for many years, got its start "because of a dam Henry Kaiser didn't get to build," according to the plant’s website. Kaiser was rebuffed in his pitch to construct the Shasta Dam in 1939.

But the Bureau of Reclamation hired him to provide the cement's sand and gravel. Kaiser had an option on a limestone deposit overlooking Permanente Creek. By 1941 the company was operating what was then the world's largest cement plant.

These days, many among its tight network of employees have followed their fathers, grandfathers and even great-grandfathers into the job

“This is the industry that’s the last of the last in this area, so it’s very common that it’s multi-generational,” said Jeremi Silva, 40, whose father and grandfather each retired from the plant after 42 years of service. “I’ve worked out there, my cousins worked out there, my friends worked out there -- all because of my dad.”

Silva was hunkered down in the Santa Clara house where he grew up Wednesday with “the doors locked and the dogs in the yard.” The home is about two blocks from where the search for Allman was underway, said Silva, who awoke to sirens before dawn this morning.

Silva said he would expect such an incident at a company "where it's all about the pie charts in a corporate office," but Lehigh was  “a loving place” where high-end executives and the plant manager regularly ate lunch with laborers.

Silva said his dad, Al Silva, was shocked when he called plant operations Wednesday morning and learned the suspect was Allman. The man wanted in the shootings was widely liked and attended his dad’s retirement party about six months ago.

“He’s got a great personality. He’s got a big handshake and a big smile for you,” Silva said of Allman. “I’m just praying for him because this is not something you expect.

Allman was “not a household name” among the families who have worked at the plant for generations. Silva estimated that he may have worked there fewer than 10 years -- short by the standards there.

Silva said his dad had relayed signs of some recent trouble at the plant. The creek was beginning to fill the quarry, he said, and the quarry manager is believed to have quit Tuesday.


Map: Shootings in Cupertino

Shooting suspect's strange behavior detailed

Cupertino quarry company 'shocked and saddened'

-- Sam Quinones and Lee Romney

Photo: Police surround the entrance to the quarry on Wednesday morning where the deadly shootings occurred. Credit: Paul Sakuma / Associated Press