KSDK-Police have identified the man who killed the mother of his child, then opened fire at a catering company he worked for. At Finninger's Catering, officials say Herbert Chalmers, Jr. killed two people, critically injured another - then turned the gun on himself.
Finninger's Catering is a family owned business, a place where co-workers know one another by name. Tuesday afternoon, Finninger's became a terrifying case study in workplace violence.
"When I saw the bodies I was just sick," said Walter Harper. His store is across the street from Finningers. "A lot of the workers come over and patronize with me," he said.
Tuesday afternoon, Harper watched as a Finninger's employee walked into the catering business and opened fire. "Really, we thought it was firecrackers." But then Harper saw employees running from the building and heard piercing screams.
Frederick Kates works at Finninger's and was inside the building at the time of the shooting, "I work in the back so I stayed in the back and next thing I know people were running in the back saying he had a gun and then he came in the kitchen shot his gun, changed his clip, and we were all scattering trying to get out of his way."
Christine Politte, 48, handled payroll at Finninger's. Co-workers say she was targeted by the gunman because he was upset his paycheck was being garnished for child support payments.
Christine's mother and the matriarch of the business, Cleo Finninger, 79, was also killed. Walter Harper says the victims were shot close to the front entrance, "To see two bodies laying there motionless, and then he starts reloading and shoots the bodies again, it was horrifying,"
Patty Meier, 48, was also shot but survived. Another intended target was Cleo's husband and co-owner, Charles Finninger, 79, who is in a wheelchair.
An employee may have saved Charles' life. After she heard the shots, Colette Meissner wheeled him into a freezer, "I thought I'd better get him in the cooler and shut the door. We waited until it got quiet and prayed cause we were scared to death."
Police say the gunman eventually shot and killed himself. Police say that earlier in the day, he also shot and killed the mother of his child, Sylvia Haynes, at an apartment complex in the 1900 block of O'Fallon Place in St. Louis.
After shooting her, police say he then went to a Walmart in St. Ann, where he bought bullets and told a clerk he was going to shoot his boss. The clerk notified St. Louis Police, but, with limited information, they didn't have enough time to prevent further bloodshed.
The Finninger name is well known in the St. Louis area. The family has owned and operated several companies that date back more than 100 years.
Nearly 50 workers call Finninger Catering their home away from home. Family and friends say a great tragedy is a communities loss.
Next week, Charles Finninger and his beloved wife Cleo would have celebrated their 55th year of marriage. At home and at work they were a team, according to workers.
The Finninger family has been in business for more than 100 years. It started with family owned and operated bakeries, then grew to include a grocery store. The Finningers received numerous proclamations over the years as the business grew. It ended up at 6128 Bartmer, after several company changes and increased demand for catering.
Ray Springer is a longtime family friend and employee, "People started asking, and then he was preparing meat trays and such. From there he started catering food, going out and serving at weddings and such."
Charles Finninger is an avid Cardinals fan and serves on the board of directors of St. Joseph Shrine. His business provides low cost food for many programs, including Meals on Wheels, YWCA's Head Start, and Grace Hill's Head Start program. Family members vow to continue the operation despite the latest tragedy.
Sadly, this is not the first time the Fenningers have been forced to overcome a business tragedy. 32 years ago, a relative was shot and killed during a robbery at the family's grocery store. Once again, the Finningers say they will pull together and go on.
Learn More About Workplace Shootings
(KSDK) — According to a report from Handgun-Free America, from 2002 to 2003, more than half (51.8 percent) of those who commit workplace shootings experienced a negative change in employment status, including 23.8 percent who were fired or laid off, and 28 percent who were demoted, suspended or involved with some type of financial dispute with management
In at least 13.4 percent of the cases reviewed, the shooter had a publicly known history of mental health problems, and over 9 percent of the shooters displayed warning signs prior to the shootings – warning signs that were subsequently ignored by those who noticed them.
The report also found that:
Most offenders know their victims
92 percent of offenders are caught or killed almost immediately
56.9 percent of offenders are 40 or older, and 80.3 percent are 30 or older
91.6 percent of workplace shooters are male
At least 13.4 percent of the incidents reviewed involved some type of domestic violence as the motive
31.7 percent of workplace shootings occur in a white collar job setting, accounting for 31.4 percent of all workplace shooting deaths
78.5 percent of the guns used in workplace shootings were handguns, and 81.2 percent of those are semiautomatics
California and Florida are the most dangerous states when it comes to workplace shootings
Links About Workplace Shootings
Chronology of Workplace Shootings: 1986-2004
The National Institute For The Prevention Of Workplace Violence