SAN FRANCISCO -- A heavy-set gunman stepped off an elevator and sprayed a downtown San Francisco high-rise law office with gunfire yesterday afternoon, killing eight and wounding at least six before placing a .45-caliber pistol under his chin and killing himself.
The drama began at 2:57 p.m. when a man identified as Gian Luigi Ferri entered the 34th-floor offices of the Pettit & Martin law firm at 101 California, a sleek 48-story cylinder of dark glass and granite known to locals as "the Silo" that covers almost an entire city block in the city's Financial District.
Informed sources said police believe Mr. Ferri was involved in a real estate deal that went sour and that he thought he was cheated out of $300,000. It is not clear what role the law firm played in that deal, but sources said Mr. Ferri gave a deposition at the firm yesterday morning.
Armed with two 9 mm weapons, one .45-caliber semiautomatic and hundreds of rounds of ammunition in a black attache case, the 55-year-old Mr. Ferri first fired bursts of gunfire into a conference room where people were in an arbitration proceeding over an employee's firing.
The 5-foot-8-inch, 230-pound Mr. Ferri, who was dressed in a dark business suit with suspenders, then began roaming from floor to floor, leaving bodies and wounded behind him on the 34th, 33rd and 31st floors.
One of those wounded in the conference room, 33-year-old court reporter Deanna Eaves, later told her husband that she ducked under a table and grabbed a chair to hide from Mr. Ferri's rain of bullets. She said he shot others in the room -- wounding most heavily those facing the door.
Sharon O'Grady, a Pettit & Martin bankruptcy attorney who was on the 34th floor, said: "I saw the gunman. He walked around the end of the hall, then started shooting. He was shooting at kind of six bursts at a time. He was probably 75 feet away.
"Before he started shooting, I was squinting at him to see if he belonged on the floor. He had dark, medium lengthy hair. He looked at us and just started shooting. I was terrified."
One of the dead was John Scully, 28, a Pettit & Martin attorney who died from wounds he received while attempting to shield his wife, Michelle, another attorney, from Mr. Ferri's bullets. She was wounded in the right shoulder and chest and was listed in serious condition.
Within minutes of the first gunshots, dozens of police and emergency personnel had raced to the building. Police SWAT teams began combing the high-rise floor by floor, and as officers climbed up a stairwell from the 29th floor, Mr. Ferri saw them coming.
He fired one shot into his head and slumped over, face up and dead.
Last night informed sources said that Mr. Ferri carried what they described as a "death list" that included the names of some of the victims. They said Mr. Ferri, who resided in the Los Angeles County community of Woodland Hills, had left the firm in the morning after the deposition and returned with his guns in the afternoon.
Within seconds of his first shots, police received their first emergency calls that there was gunfire on the high-rise's 33rd and 34th floors, and dozens of officers were immediately dispatched to the site.
Downtown San Francisco traffic quickly became snarled, and hundreds of gawkers lined the sidewalks. The Bay Area Rapid Transit and the Municipal Railway briefly shut down their routes in the area.
John Scully and another victim, Debra Fogel, 33, were pronounced dead at the San Francisco General Hospital. All the other victims died at the high-rise. The only other victim identified last night was Allen J. Berk, 52, a partner at Pettit & Martin.
Along with Michelle Scully, 27, the wounded were identified as Brian Berger, 39, a Pettit & Martin attorney reported to be in critical condition; Deanna Eaves, the court reporter, in fair condition; Vicky Smith, 41, an employee for Trust Company of the West, in serious condition; Charles Ross, 42, a Pettit & Martin lawyer, in stable condition; and Sharon Jones O'Roke, in critical condition.
One hospital official said all the wounded are expected to recover.
At the shooting scene, many of the thousands of employees who work at 101 California first learned that something was wrong was when an announcement came over the building's public address system warning people to lock their doors.
One woman on the 27th floor said she first learned of the shooting when Pettit & Martin employees burst onto her floor. "They said, 'Help us, there's a man with a gun!' " the woman recalled.
One attorney in the firm, Nancy Asbill, said she was in the bathroom when the gunfire started. "We heard the fire alarm," she said. "We thought it was a fire drill. Then we saw the bullet holes and saw the smoke. We ran out."
While hundreds of employees fled the building, rescue crews tried to minister to the dying and wounded. The Rev. George Twigg-Porter, a chaplain for the San Francisco Fire Department, said he administered last rites at the scene for the three people who died there.