Three killed in St Louis factory shooting

An employee armed with an assault rifle and a handgun walked into a manufacturing plant this morning and opened fire, killing at least three people and wounding five others, US authorities said.

Several hours later, police were still inside Swiss-based ABB Group's plant, going room to room in a search for both the gunman and additional victims, police Captain Sam Dotson said. Authorities had not confirmed whether the gunman was among the eight.

Fire Department spokesman Bob Keuss identified the suspected killer as Timothy Hendron of Webster Groves, a St Louis suburb. Dotson said Hendron is an employee of the plant.

The shooting occurred as a federal lawsuit Hendron and other ABB workers filed against the company in 2006 over their retirement plan was unfolding in a federal courtroom in Kansas City, Missouri. Online court documents show that a bench trial began on Tuesday and was expected to last at least three weeks.

The lawsuit seeks to recover financial losses by the workers' retirement plan, claiming that ABB and its pension-review committee caused the plan to include investment options with "unreasonable and excessive" fees and expenses.

Gunfire broke out around 6.30am during a shift change, and 40 to 50 people were likely in the factory at the time, Dotson said. As shots began to ring out, employees scurried to find safety.

"Many of them sought safety on the roof, in boilers and broom closets," Dotson said.

Names of the victims were not immediately released. Police said three of the injured were in critical condition and two were in fair condition.

Fire Chief Dennis Jenkerson said firefighters and paramedics were standing by in case there were additional injuries, either from the shooting itself or from seeking refuge on the roof in bitter cold. The wind chill in St Louis dipped below zero.

"It's cold, and shock sets in, hypothermia," Jenkerson said. "It doesn't sound good."

Dozens of emergency vehicles circled the sprawling plant on a day made more chaotic by several inches of snow that snarled traffic in the St Louis region.

ABB Group makes power transmission and industrial automation equipment. The company manufactures transformers at the St Louis site, which employs about 270 people. The company has operations in roughly 100 countries, employing about 120,000 people. Last October, ABB reported third-quarter earnings of more than 1 billion US dollars.

Thomas Schmidt, an ABB corporate spokesman in Zurich, Switzerland, said in a statement today the company had received reports of the shooting.

"This is obviously a very serious situation and we are working to gather more information as it becomes available," the statement said. "The welfare of our employees is of utmost importance to us."