MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — An Israeli immigrant who started a signage company in his basement and spent decades building it into a successful business was among five people slain by a fired employee at a Minneapolis workplace, authorities said.
Also killed were an avid sculptor and painter with a day job there and a UPS driver who made pickups and deliveries to the company for years. Police said he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Six people — including the suspected gunman — were shot to death Thursday afternoon at Accent Signage Systems, located in a quiet residential corner of northwest Minneapolis. Police say Andrew Engeldinger, 36, was fired from the company that afternoon and responded by fatally shooting others there before he turned the gun on himself in the building's basement.
Among those killed were Reuven Rahamim, 61, the company's founder; Rami Cooks, 62, of Minnetonka; Jacob Beneke, 34, of Maple Grove; Ronald Edberg, 58, of Brooklyn Center; and Keith Basinski, 50, a Wisconsin native who was the UPS driver.
Two other employees remained hospitalized, one in critical condition and the other in serious condition.
No details were immediately released about why Engeldinger was fired, but Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan said it appeared he singled out some victims and spared others. Many of those killed or injured were management.
Jim Dow, a sales representative who frequently visited the business, said Saturday that he'd spoken to Accent employees and family members of victims. He said they told him that in recent months, Engeldinger had been running afoul of managers with confrontational behavior and unexplained absences from work.
"He was getting mouthy, belligerent," Dow said. Cooks, who's been described as Rahamim's right-hand man, "would take him aside and tell him that's not acceptable," Dow said. "He'd straighten up for a while and then this would crop up again."
Engeldinger's family offered sympathy to the victims in a statement through the National Alliance on Mental Illness. It said he had struggled with mental illness for years.
"This is not an excuse for his actions, but sadly, may be a partial explanation," the statement said.
Engeldinger's parents were worried about their son's growing paranoia. In 2010, they sought help, enrolling in a 12-week class for families of the mentally ill.
For the last 21 months, the family said they reached out in hopes he would seek treatment. It was to no avail, as Engeldinger spurned their attempts at contact.
On Thursday night, they learned he was the gunman in Minnesota's deadliest workplace shooting.
"It's not unusual when you're isolating yourself, which we know that he did, that eventually the only people you have left is your family and your co-workers, and often your paranoia translates to them," Sue Abderholden, a mental health organization executive who is serving as spokeswoman for Engeldinger's family, said Saturday.
Rahamim's family asked that the focus of the tragedy be on those killed rather than the gunman. Rahamim's son-in law, Chad Blumenfield, wrote in an email that Rahamim was born and raised on a farm in Israel and was a soldier in the Israeli Army before leaving for the U.S. after the 1973 Yom Kippur Mideast War.
"He loved spending time with his children and grandchildren and especially loved to take his grandson for bike rides," Blumenfield wrote.
Beneke had a wife and a young son, said Lorrie Link, who heads the Maple Grove Arts Center. She said Beneke was a volunteer there, where he displayed his work and promoted the work of other artists in the suburb northwest of Minneapolis.
Beneke's Facebook page said he worked as digital imaging manager at Accent Signage Systems.
Basinski was a Wisconsin native dedicated to the Green Bay Packers football team. Dolan said he likely wasn't one of the gunman's primary targets but was killed simply because he happened to be there.
Minneapolis Police Capt. Amelia Huffman said the scene at Accent Signage Systems was "very chaotic" and that it was taking time for police to put together a comprehensive chronology. She said there were more than 20 people scattered in the building when Engeldinger began firing, and witnesses only saw bits of what happened.
Huffman said police believe Engeldinger got a letter of reprimand in the mail and came into the office Thursday afternoon. At that point, he was terminated.
"From the best we can tell, the incident started right after Mr. Engeldinger had been fired," Huffman said. She said there was a struggle in the office and shots were fired. Dolan said Engeldinger used a 9mm Glock semi-automatic pistol he had owned for about a year.
Dolan said the shooting was over by the time police arrived in response to emergency calls. They entered the building to find a scene he described as "hellish."
Later Thursday, police teams and investigators searched Engeldinger's home in south Minneapolis. There they found a second gun and packaging for 10,000 rounds of ammunition in the house.
Abderholden, the executive director of Minnesota's chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said she didn't know when Engeldinger's family first became worried that he had a mental illness. Two years ago, Chuck and Carolyn Engeldinger — who raised Andy and his two siblings in the Minneapolis suburb of Richfield — enrolled in NAMI's free, 12-week "Family to Family" course.
The classes, offered nationwide and taught by people who have had loved ones suffer from mental illness, include scientific and medical information about causes and symptoms, as well as concrete steps for trying to deal with the sufferer. They also have guidance for family members to cope.
Andrew Engeldinger never sought treatment to his family's knowledge, Abderholden said, and was never diagnosed with a specific illness. It wasn't long after his parents took the class that he cut off contact with the family, although Abderholden said she didn't know if pressure to seek help led to the estrangement.
The Engeldingers declined an interview request.
As he withdrew, Engeldinger's main point of contact with the outside world appeared to be his job. Several people in the Minneapolis neighborhood where he bought a home in 2004 said they never exchanged more than pleasantries.
Brian Jorgensen, who lived next door, said they only occasionally acknowledged each other when both were cutting the grass or shoveling sidewalks. He said Engeldinger wore sunglasses all the time.
Engeldinger was "just a quiet person who kept to himself but did not engage with us. And we didn't engage with him either because it just felt like he didn't want that kind of contact."
Abderholden said the likelihood of violence by a mentally ill person is very low, and that Engeldinger's family wouldn't have had reason to suspect he was capable of such violent acts. She called the family "extremely close" and said they are distraught.
"They just have deep sorrow about what happened, and if there was any way they could bring those lives back they would," Abderholden said. "They don't want to detract from the focus on those lives."