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California workplace shooting: Friends of suspect express disbelief

October 5, 2011 | 11:28 pm

Lavella Benton, left, and Nia Harris

Friends of the gunman suspected of killing three and wounding seven others Wednesday in Cupertino, Calif., expressed disbelief that the man they knew could have committed such a crime.

"He was an OK guy," said Johnnie Gray, 54, of East Palo Alto. "Nobody would think he would do anything like this."

Gray said Shareef Allman, 47, whom officials identified as the suspected gunman, used to come into his boxing club almost every day about four years ago. Sometimes, he would bring his daughter and the two would train. He said Allman was a respectable man who would try to get children off the streets and into Gray’s boxing gym, which serves at-risk youth.

Photos: Shooting at California quarry

"He was a supportive type of person in the community," he said of Allman, who he said could always be spotted at San Jose’s annual jazz festival. Allman stopped coming around when Gray switched gym locations, and he said he hasn’t seen him for about a year.

When Gray heard about the shooting suspect, he said he was shocked. "I was like come on, no, not Shareef," he said, adding that Allman was not a "monster."

Lavella Benton, 52, said Allman, who for a time wanted to be a comedian, "was a voice for young black men in the community."

"He spoke against violence," she said. "His show was against violence. I'm in shock."

Benton said she has known Allman since she moved to San Jose 30 years ago. He was studying cosmetology and doing hair with one of Benton's girlfriends and the three of them clicked.

"He didn't drink, he didn't do drugs. He was a mentor to my boys, who are now 29 and 32," said Benton, who left her phone number with Santa Clara County sheriff's officials in the hope she could help urge Allman to surrender.

Benton said she knew that Allman "was having problems on his job but I didn't know how severe. This is not him. He snapped."

The suspected gunman is still at large. 


Map: Shootings in Cupertino

Photos: Shooting at California quarry

Company 'shocked and saddened'

-- Lee Romney in San Jose and Nicole Santa Cruz in Los Angeles

Photo: Lavella Benton, left, and Nia Harris arrive at the scene where a manhunt was under way for their friend Shareef Allman on Wednesday morning. Credit: Maria J. Avila Lopez, San Jose Mercury News / MCT