ALBERTVILLE, Ala. (AP) — A worker wielding a handgun fatally shot two people and wounded two others at an Alabama fire hydrant factory early Tuesday before killing himself near a cemetery where his mother is buried, police said.
The shooting — which happened about 2:30 a.m. at a Mueller Co. plant in Albertville — added to a slew of homicides around the country. Several hours later, gunfire in Chicago claimed four victims.
In the Alabama case, a manhunt ended when the shooter's body was found inside a Jeep in Guntersville, about 15 miles (24 kilometers) away from the factory, shortly after daybreak. Multiple weapons were found inside the vehicle, Albertville Police Chief Jamie Smith said at a news conference.
Smith said the suspect appeared to have died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. What prompted him to kill and maim his coworkers wasn't immediately clear, the chief said. He called the shooting “completely unprovoked.”
The chief identified the dead men as Michael Dobbins and David Horton, and the shooter as Andreas Horton, 34. He said that as far as he knew, the Hortons were not related, and had “no ties other than co-workers.”
Two other people — Casey Sampson and Isaac Byrd — were hospitalized. Their conditions weren't immediately known. They were taken to a nearby hospital and later transferred to a larger hospital in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the chief said.
The body of Andreas Horton, who was sometimes called Andy, was found in his vehicle, parked along a road overlooking Guntersville City Cemetery, about 10 miles (16 kilometers) from the plant. His mother, who died of cancer at age 40 in 2011, was buried just a short walk away.
A distant relative of Horton’s, Sanchez Watkins, said he last saw Andreas a few months ago at a grocery store.
“Andy was a good guy. Very quiet, easygoing. You would never expect this from him,” Watkins said.
Cody Windsor, a Mueller employee who was at home at the time, told The Associated Press that he knew both Hortons, but didn't know what might have prompted the shootings.
Windsor said friends working the overnight shift told him the shooting happened in a part of the plant where fire hydrants and pipes are painted, and that an announcement about an active shooter was made over a PA system at the factory, which occupies several buildings over a large area near a railroad track, with fire hydrants stored on racks outside.
The police chief said the crime scene encompasses a large area inside the sprawling plant, and victims were found in two or three different locations inside.
Windsor said he and David Horton, a foundry helper who could do most any job in the plant, were buddies at work and often hung out together during breaks. “We’d sit in our cars and listen to music,” he said. “Andy” Horton was quiet and recently went through the death of his mother, Windsor said.
“We work together and we bond together. We’re here as much as we are at home,” he said. He added that the shooting made him nervous about going back to work for fear “that somebody is going to walk in the door and shoot you."
Ann Walters told Al.com that Dobbins was her grandson, and that he had been working at the factory for nearly a year, saving up to buy a home and a car. “He was a perfect gentleman, everybody will tell you. He was good to everybody and put his family first,” she said.
Mueller Co., based in Cleveland, Tennessee, is a subsidiary of Atlanta-based Mueller Water Products Inc., which calls itself a leading maker of water distribution and measurement products in North America. More than 400 people work at the plant in Albertville, giving the city in northwest Alabama its nickname of “Fire Hydrant Capital of the World.”
In a statement read aloud by the police chief, company officials said they were “shocked and deeply saddened by the horrific tragedy,” and “committed to providing help and support” to the victims’ families.
The growing gun violence nationwide has police and criminal justice experts concerned. Within hours of the Alabama gunfire Tuesday, four women were killed and four other people were wounded in a pre-dawn shooting at a home in Chicago, police said. The toll from this past weekend included two people killed and at least 30 others wounded in mass shootings in Chicago, the Texas capital of Austin, and Savannah, Georgia.
Law officers had hoped that last year's spike in homicides would subside as the nation emerges from coronavirus restrictions, but they remain higher than they were in pre-pandemic times.
“There was a hope this might simply be a statistical blip that would start to come down,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum. “That hasn’t happened. And that’s what really makes chiefs worry that we may be entering a new period where we will see a reversal of 20 years of declines in these crimes.”
Albertville is a tightknit community, and its people will come together to support the victims' families, city spokeswoman Robin Lathan said.
“Everyone is absolutely heartbroken and devastated,” she said. “The Mueller Company is part of the lifeblood of who we are in the city of Albertville. It’s just a devastating blow.”