MELROSE PARK, ILL. — MELROSE PARK, Ill. - A man forced his way into a Navistar engine factory in this western Chicago suburb yesterday morning and opened fire, killing four people and wounding four others before taking his own life.
Police identified the man as Willie Dan Baker, a 66-year-old forklift operator who had worked at Navistar for 40 years before being fired in 1995 for stealing engine parts.
Last month, Baker was convicted in federal court of conspiracy to commit interstate theft in connection with the stolen Navistar parts. He was scheduled to begin his five-month prison sentence today. His sentence also required him to pay a $195,000 fine.
Vito R. Scavo, the police chief of Melrose Park, said Baker entered Navistar's International Truck and Engine Corp. at 9:44 a.m. carrying a golf bag. He approached a security guard in a booth, telling her he had some "personal belongings" to give to a friend who worked at the plant, Scavo said.
When the security guard refused to let him in, Baker brandished a .38-caliber snub-nosed revolver and forced the security guard to let him into the building.
Inside, Baker went into a large, open engineering machine shop and "went up one lane and down another" shooting, Scavo said.
Armed with an AK-47 rifle, a shotgun, a hunting rifle and the revolver, Baker walked the equivalent of a block or two in the machine shop and shot seven people, killing three of them, Scavo said. Then he entered an office in the corner of the engineering section, where he fatally shot another employee and killed himself.
Scavo said police were still trying to determine whether Baker knew any of his victims or intended to kill them, but he said the victims, all men, appeared to have been chosen randomly.
As far as the police know, Baker did not say anything during the shooting and did not leave a note.
Scavo said police were trying to determine whether Baker's guns were legally obtained.
"I heard the guns going off," said Robert Jones, a fuel systems engineer who was an aisle away from the shooting. "I just heard three gunshots and thought, 'I've got to get out of here.'"
Jones, a 32-year veteran at the plant, said he had known Baker for 15 years when he worked at Navistar. "All I know is that Bill was an easygoing guy," Jones said.
Baker, of West Chicago, worked at Navistar from 1955 to 1995, Scavo said.
Also in 1995, Baker was charged in Chicago suburb Carol Stream with criminal sexual assault in an unrelated incident involving a family member who was under the age of 18, said Jim Linane, the deputy police chief there. Baker was convicted on that charge in 1998. He was sentenced to home confinement, but the police were not immediately able to say how long his sentence was.
Last year, Baker registered as a convicted sex offender with Carol Stream's police department.
Navistar International is the country's second-largest manufacturer of heavy-duty trucks. It also produces school buses and diesel engines, which it sells to other truck manufacturers.
The factory in Melrose Park, an industrial suburb about 18 miles west of downtown Chicago, employs 1,200 to 1,800 people on any given day, said a spokesman, Bob Carso. Scavo did not know how many people were in the plant on yesterday, but he said, "It was a full house, I can tell you that."
Those killed were Daniel Dorsch, 52, a supervisor in the engine laboratory section of the plant; Robert E. Wehrheim, 47, a technician; and two others whom police and Navistar officials declined to identify because their families had not yet been notified.
Two of the wounded men, Carl Swanson, 45, and Mujtaba Aidross, 24, both technicians, were in critical condition last night. The other two, Bryan Snyder, 25, an engineer, and Matt Kush, 22, a technician, were treated and released.
Scavo and the Melrose Park mayor, Ron Serpico, said that given the size of the sprawling plant, 2 million square feet, and the number of employees, they were grateful that more people had not been harmed.