On a personal note: In the last three decades, there have been numerous shootings around the country that have taken countless number of victims. In schools, in shopping centers, college and university campuses, work places. But the one at The Capital Gazette in Annapolis last week, was different. It was at a newspaper and those just haven’t happened. It was personal, because it was at a newspaper. And it was very personal because of memories from September, 1989.
When I heard about the Annapolis newspaper shootings, I immediately researched Shooting at Standard Gravure to see the date it happened and the seriousness of the shootings. We were in Louisville at the time, we being representatives of KPA. We were at the Holiday Inn on Hurstbourne Lane, with a KPA Fall Ad Seminar. John Foust, whose column we frequently publish in On Second Thought, was conducting the day-long seminar for us. We were midway through that Thursday morning’s seminar when John allowed for a break about 10:15 a.m. Grab a cup of coffee, get another donut, use the restroom and be back here in 15 minutes were John’s instructions.
But the break took a different turn soon thereafter. A solemn turn, unable to imagine that just a few miles away, in the newspaper office where a couple of the attendees worked, a man entered the pressroom area and gunned down eight former co-workers and injured another 12. Before long, Joseph Wesbecker took his own life.
At the time it was one of the 30 most deadly mass shootings in U.S. history. To this day, it remains the deadliest mass shooting in Kentucky. What I don’t recall is the outpouring of support for the Courier Journal/Standard Gravure from the public or the public’s outcry that it had happened. Certainly not like what we saw in Annapolis or what happens with countless other mass killings.
The Standard Gravure shooting occurred on September 14, 1989, in Louisville, Kentucky, when Joseph T. Wesbecker, a 47-year-old pressman, killed eight people and injured twelve at his former workplace, Standard Gravure, before committing suicide. The shooting is the deadliest mass shooting in Kentucky’s history, and one of the 30 most deadly mass shootings in US history. The murders resulted in a high-profile lawsuit against Eli Lilly and Company, manufacturers of the antidepressant drug Prozac, which Wesbecker had begun using during the month prior to his shooting rampage.
On September 14, 1989, Wesbecker, who was nicknamed “Rocky” by his colleagues, parked his car in front of the main entrance of Standard Gravure and entered the plant at 8:30 a.m., carrying a Polytech AK-47S, (a Chinese-made semiautomatic AK-47derivative), a SIG Sauer P226 9mm pistol, and a duffel bag containing two MAC-11s, a snubnosed .38 caliber Smith & Wesson Model 12 Airweight revolver, a bayonet, and several hundred rounds of ammunition.
He took the elevator to the executive reception area on the third floor and, as soon as the doors opened, fired at receptionists Sharon Needy, whom he killed, and Angela Bowman, whom he paralyzed with a shot in the back. Searching for Standard Gravure’s President, Michael Shea, and other supervisors and managers of the plant, Wesbecker calmly walked through the hallways, deliberately shooting at people. He killed James Husband and injured Forrest Conrad, Paula Warman and John Stein, a bindery supervisor whom he shot in the head and abdomen. Wesbecker then headed down the stairs to the pressroom, where he killed Paul Sallee and wounded Stanley Hatfield and David Sadenfaden, two electricians from Marine Electric who were working on a broken machine.
Leaving his duffel bag under a stairwell, Wesbecker walked down to the basement, where he encountered pressman John Tingle who, alerted by the loud noises, went to see what was going on. Tingle greeted his colleague, asking him what was happening. Wesbecker replied: “Hi John… I told them I’d be back. Get away from me.” After Tingle moved out of his way, Wesbecker continued his path through the basement, shooting Richard Barger in the back, killing him. According to witnesses, Wesbecker approached Barger’s body and apologized, having apparently killed him accidentally, as he could not see at whom he was shooting.
Back on the pressroom floor, he shot at anyone in his way, killing James Wible and Lloyd White, then finally entered the breakroom, where he emptied his magazine, hitting all seven workers present and killing William Ganote with a shot to the head. Wesbecker then reloaded and resumed firing, fatally wounding Kenneth Fentress.
Wesbecker then returned to the pressroom, where he pulled out his SIG Sauer, put it under his chin, and shot himself, ending a shooting spree that had lasted for about half an hour. He had fired about 40 rounds, leaving eight people dead and twelve wounded. One person had suffered a heart attack.
When police searched Wesbecker’s house, they recovered a shotgun, a Colt 9-millimeter revolver, a .32 revolver, and a starter’s pistol. They found Wesbecker’s will, as well as an issue of Time Magazine on the kitchen table. The magazine featured an article about Patrick Purdy, who had killed five children and injured thirty others with a Type 56 assault rifle (essentially the same weapon Wesbecker used) at a school in Stockton, California earlier that year.