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Fresno chicken plant shooting: 'Nobody knows why it happened'

Mourners gather at a candlelight vigil near a poultry plant in Fresno, where police said an employee opened fire Tuesday morning, killing two co-workers and wounding two others before fatally shooting himself. Credit: Mark Crosse / Fresno Bee

A day after a Fresno man opened fire on his co-workers, killing two and wounding two others before fatally shooting himself, grieving relatives and employees gathered at the Fresno poultry plant, still stunned by the violence.

About 60 people gathered for a candlelight vigil Wednesday night across the street from Valley Protein, which closed for the day as workers met with grief counselors, the Fresno Bee reported.

The central Fresno plant was a chaotic scene Tuesday morning, when police said Lawrence Jones, 42 — a discharged parolee who had worked at the plant for about 14 months — began firing on his co-workers about 8:30 a.m., three and a half hours into his shift.

He first walked up to Salvador Diaz, 32, and shot him in the head, police said. He then shot Manuel Verdin, 34, in the head before turning to shoot Arnfulo Conrriquez, 28, in the neck.

Between the noisy machinery at the plant and the fact that some of the workers wore ear protection, the Bee said, police believe many of the employees were unaware of the shooting. Fatima Lopez, 32, saw and ran, but authorities said Jones shot her in the buttocks.

Jones also placed his gun to the head of a fifth employee, but that man was spared because the 4-shot gun was out of ammunition.

After firing, Jones went to a quick-freeze room in the plant where he was confronted by a manager, Valley Protein President Bob Coyle told the Bee. Jones then ran outside and fatally shot himself in the head.

Diaz and Verdin died of their injuries. Conrriquez was in critical condition at an area hospital. Lopez was treated and released.

Authorities were still trying to determine what prompted the shooting and why he chose those victims. Verdin and Conrriquez had only worked for Valley Protein for a week, the company told the Bee. Diaz began working there in June.

"Nobody knows why it happened," Coyle told the Bee. "There were no arguments that ensued or anything that led to this."

Jones, who had been in and out of prison since 1991 for robbery and other convictions, was released in June 2011 and discharged from parole in May 2012, according to state records.

A Fresno County mental health evaluation in 2004 diagnosed him with "intermittent explosive disorder, drug-induced psychotic disorder and dependence on multiple substances including amphetamine, marijuana and alcohol," the Bee reported. Jail psychiatric services staff had described him as "mentally unstable."

A friend and former co-worker of Verdin told the Bee those who knew the victims "don't understand how something like this could take place."

"They were at work trying to support their families, and somebody came in and gunned them down," he said.

Verdin -- described by the friend as "a happy, good character" -- was married with a 2-year-old son, the Bee reported.

Diaz was not married, a cousin told the newspaper, but enjoyed spending time with his sister's family and her children. Ofelia Olea said Diaz was "one of the funniest people you could talk to, watch a movie with and laugh with," a man who was trying to turn his life around after previous associations with gangs.

"I know his past hasn't been the greatest, but he was changing," Olea said. "He was going to work. He was doing what he needed to do to change his life."

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— Kate Mather

Follow Kate Mather on Twitter or Google+.

Photo: Mourners gather at a candlelight vigil near a poultry plant in Fresno, where police said an employee opened fire Tuesday morning, killing two co-workers and wounding two others before fatally shooting himself. Credit: Mark Crosse / Fresno Bee

 
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