JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A man with a violent criminal record whose car had recently been repossessed sprayed a loan office with semi-automatic rifle fire Monday, killing eight people and injuring at least five, authorities said. The gunman then killed himself.
Duval County Sheriff James McMillan said the gunman, James Edward Pough, 42, of Jacksonville, also was a suspect in the weekend killings of an alleged prostitute and her reputed pimp. He also served five years' probaton for aggravated assault, and once was arrested for assault with intent to murder.
One of the guns Pough had during Monday's massacre was registered under his name, and it was unclear whether the document had been properly issued in light of the gunman's criminal record.
'It is one of the worst things I've seen in my 20 some odd years of police work,' McMillan said of the attack, noting that one of the dead was a police officer's wife.
It was the nation's worst mass fatal shooting since Sept. 14, when Joseph T. Wesbecker, 47, a pressman on disability for mental illness, fatally shot eight people and wounded 12 others at a printing plant in Louisville, Ky., then killed himself. It also matched the worst single-gunman massacre in Florida history, when eight people were killed in a Miami machine shop in August 1982.
Pough walked through the front door of the General Motors Acceptance Corp. auto finance office near downtown Jacksonville about 11 a.m. EDT and began shooting customers with a .30-caliber semi-automatic carbine, McMillan said. 'He didn't say anything,' the sheriff said. 'He just walked in and started indiscriminately shooting.
Pough, also carrying a .38-caliber revolver, then went through the office firing at employees, some of them hiding under desks, before shooting himself in the head, McMillan said. There were 86 employees in the office at the time.
Seven people, including Pough, died at the scene and seven more were taken to hospitals, where two more died later, McMillan said.
McMillan said GMAC repossessed Pough's car Jan. 24, and 'we suspect this may have triggered his irrational behavior.' Pough drove to the GMAC office Monday in a different car, in which investigators found a 9mm machine pistol.
Describing Monday's shooting, GMAC employee Rich Langill, who works in the office's back room, said Pough 'shot at a couple of customers on his way to the counter, and then started picking us off. ... At first, back where we were, the noise of it sounded like a copy machine or something had blown up.'
Co-worker Jean Waggoner said, 'We locked our doors and kept a lookout for more people coming in, and they were hysterical and they were going into shock. We had one lady faint on us. We more or less turned our office into a hospital.'
Nita King, a county employee in nearby Ocala, said she got a phone call from a woman at the GMAC office about the time the shooting started. 'I answered the phone and didn't get an answer a couple of times ... and she says, 'Help! Help! Help! ... We're being robbed. Please help,'' she said.
'About that time I could hear some gunshots in the background,' she said. '... (The caller) was under her desk. ... I heard at least 8 or 10, I guess, people screaming and carrying on. The girl was so upset, she kept begging for help.'
Pough was suspected of shooting to death a prostitute, Doretta Elaine Drake, 30, and her pimp, Louis Carl Bacon, 39, near his home early Saturday because he believed he had been cheated in a sex deal, McMillan said. Both had been shot with a .30-caliber rifle, and the killer's description matched Pough's.
McMillan said Pough's criminal record included five years' probation for a 1971 guilty plea to aggravated assault stemming from the shooting of a friend who had insulted Pough's girlfriend. The judge expunged the conviction after Pough finished probation.
Pough also was arrested in 1966 for assault with the intent to murder, but it was unclear whether he was convicted of the charge, sheriff's Sgt. Steve Weintraub said.
The .38-caliber revolver was registered in Pough's name, but police did not know whether Pough also had permits for the carbine or the machine pistol. 'We're trying to find out where he got the guns,' Weintraub said. 'The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms will be looking into it also.'
Two women and a man from the GMAC massacre were taken to University Medical Center, where one of the women, Denise Highfill, a wife of a Jacksonville police officer, died about a half hour later, spokesman Vince Scolari said. The other woman was in fair condition and the man was in serious condition.
Another victim died at St. Luke's Hospital, spokeswoman Kim Price said.
Three other injured were taken to Baptist Hospital in cricital condition, spokeswoman Cindy Hamilton said.
The attack matched the worst massacre by a single gunman in Florida history. On Aug. 20, 1982, eight people in a Miami machine shop were killed and three were wounded by Carl Robert Brown, 51, who was angry over a welding bill. Brown was killed by a car that rammed his bicycle as he fled.
On April 23, 1987, William B. Cruse stalked two Palm Bay shopping centers and killed six people and wounded 14 others. He was sentenced to death and is now on death row.