Lockheed-Martin shooting anniversary

By Brian Livingston/The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN — This week marks the 10th anniversary of the July 8, 2003 workplace shooting at the Lockheed Martin plant in Meridian, where Douglas Williams, 48 shot 14 co-workers, killing six of them before committing suicide.

The memory of that event is still fresh for investigators with the Lauderdale County Sheriff’s Office who responded to the call.

“We were living the nightmare all law enforcement agencies have,” Lauderdale County Sheriff Billy Sollie said. “Every year I relive this event. I can see the fleet of TV trucks that showed up from all over the nation. I can see the faces of the relatives of those who died. It isn’t a good memory.”

According to reports at the time, on the day of the shooting Williams was to attend a mandatory ethics and diversity class together with 13 others. According to some colleagues Williams arrived at the plant in a very agitated state after being ordered to attend the meeting due to an earlier incident in which he refused to follow the orders of a superior.

The six people died. They were: DeLois Bailey, 53, of Bailey, Miss.; Sam Cockrell, 46, of Meridian; Micky Fitzgerald, 45, of Little Rock, Miss.; Lynette McCall, 47, of Cuba, Ala.; Rev. Charles J. Miller, 58, of Meridian; and Thomas Willis, 57, of Lisman, Ala.

Johnny Whitaker, spokesman for Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Marietta, Ga., said while July 8 marks a tragic anniversary in the history of Lockheed Martin’s Meridian facility, the company has chosen not to dwell on what happened 10 years ago.

“Make no mistake, we will never forget our co-workers, friends and family members who were indiscriminately gunned down that fateful morning; they will forever be in our hearts and memories,” Whitaker said. “But, the Meridian team has moved on and grown stronger since the events of July 8, 2003. Today, the members of our vibrant, proud and highly productive workforce work hand in hand to ensure they build the best parts for the aircraft destined for America’s war fighters and her allies.”

At the time, In terms of workplace shootings, the one at Lockheed was the deadliest in the United States.

Whitaker said the tragic event at Meridian and violent acts at other workplaces around the country have served to heighten the awareness of Lockheed Martin officials to the threat of workforce violence.

“We have redoubled our efforts to protect our employees with everything from specific security measures, to training on how to personally protect oneself and co-workers should violence break out in their work areas, to valuing a diverse and inclusive working environment at every Lockheed Martin facility worldwide,” Whitaker said.

“Because of the shootings at our Meridian facility — and other incidents of workplace violence around the country — we have worked hard to mitigate the chances of it happening again in Meridian and at Lockheed Martin facilities worldwide.”

With a few exceptions driven by specific state laws, Whitaker said no personal weapons are allowed on any facility owned or operated by Lockheed Martin.

“Bringing personal firearms or weapons onto most of our properties is grounds for immediate termination of employment with Lockheed Martin,” Whitaker said.

This week also marks the sixth year for the Reconciliation Week Celebration, which will take place in several locations in Meridian. Jinnell Miller, the widow of one of the shooting victims, Rev. Charles J. Miller, said the events are not intended to dwell on the tragedy of the day but to promote healing to honor those who died.

“We have had people ask us why we keep remembering this day,” Miller said. “They think it is something we should forget about. But we want to remember the victims and their legacy. We want to spread some good will in the aftermath of something so bad. We want to keep the memories of the victims with us.”

For law enforcement, Sollie said the lessons learned on that day 10 years ago are ones he hopes will never have to be put to use again. Sollie said his department came through the ordeal with better officers, albeit, shaken from the experience.

“We never faced anything like that before but we buckled down, divided into teams, and got the job done in what I consider to be the best example of teamwork of which I’ve ever been a part,” Sollie said.

Sollie said no community is immune from violence. The school shootings in Newtown, Conn., the movie theater shootings in Colorado last year; and the Boston Marathon bombings this spring are all examples of incidents that if a person or persons is motivated enough, they are extremely hard to prevent, he said.

“I can’t say it won’t happen again here,” Sollie said. “But this date will always be with us.”

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Information from: The Meridian Star, http://www.meridianstar.com