Murder-suicide leaves four dead in St. Louis
By AP/Matt Sepic, KWMU
St. Louis – Police in St. Louis are trying to figure out why a man killed three people Tuesday before killing himself. The dead included the mother of the gunman's child and two co-workers.
The violence started Tuesday morning, when police say Herbert Chalmers Jr. killed Sylvia Haynes, the mother of his child, in her apartment. He then went to the catering business in St. Louis where he had worked and killed the company's 79-year old co-owner, Cleo Finnigar, and her 44-year old daughter, Christine Pollitte, who handled payroll.
Co-workers say Chalmers also appeared to be looking for Finnegar's husband, Charles, but they had hidden him in a walk-in cooler. The gunman later killed himself.
Between the shootings, Chalmers had bragged that he was going to kill his boss while buying bullets at a Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart employees alerted police, but police only arrived at the catering business after the shooting had started.
Co-workers say Chalmers might have been upset because he had just learned his wages were going to be garnished to pay child support. He also might have been fired this week.
Chalmers also shot a third worker at the business, but she survived. The catering business provides meals for senior center and Head Start programs. The building is on Bartmer Avenue, just north if Skinker & Olive, near where the borders of St. Louis, Wellston, and University City meet.
Employee Colette Meissner said she was in the kitchen when she heard shots. She said the gunman was screaming the names of people he intended to kill.
He shouted "Charlie," referring to Cleo Finninger's husband, Charles Finninger. The elderly owner was in a wheelchair, and Meissner pushed him into a walk-in cooler. There, they huddled with another employee and listened as the shots went on and on.
"I shut the door and we all stood in there and prayed," Meissner said. "We were scared to death." After it became silent, Meissner walked out and found the inside of the building covered in blood.
St. Louis police said the women who were killed were running away from the shooter with other employees, who fled out the back of the catering shop. The gunman was using a semiautomatic handgun.
Walter Harper, who owns Harper's Groceries down the street from the catering business, said he saw both women on the ground. Even after they were wounded and apparently dead, the gunman just kept shooting, Harper said.
Finninger's employee Martin Lee said he had just returned from a catering run and saw his co-workers running and shouting. He said Chalmers had worked at the business for a couple of years. "He seemed like a pretty nice guy," Lee said.
Employee Dawn Flowers, still wearing her red apron, cried as she recalled seeing the gunman enter through a back door carrying a duffel bag and a coat over his arm. She believed the coat was hiding the gun.
"I was hid; I was in the back cooking. He came through the back door just past me," Flowers said.
Finninger's has operated in St. Louis for about three decades. The workplace shooting was believed to be the worst in Missouri since July 2003, when Jonathon Russell 25, shot and killed three co-workers and wounded five others at the Modine Manufacturing Co. in Jefferson City, before killing himself.