Sacked office worker kills three in Alabama

THREE PEOPLE were shot dead in a small Alabama town yesterday, marking the second time in two weeks that a disgruntled American has taken out his grievances on his former colleagues.

A 34-year-old white male was arrested after the shootings. It is alleged he killed three of his former workmates in two buildings in Pelham, a suburb of Birmingham, Alabama, reportedly after he was sacked from one of the companies. The shootings took place at Post Airgas and Ferguson Enterprises, two local businesses, early yesterday morning.

Police said there was a "brief scuffle" when they caught the suspect after a high-speed chase on a nearby interstate highway. A gun was recovered from the car. He would be charged with capital murder, they said.

The victims were identified as Lee Hallbrooks, 32, and Christopher Yancy, 28, employees at Ferguson, where the suspect had been working, and Terry Jarvis, 39, an employee at Post Airgas, where he had previously worked.

Ferguson is a national distributor of plumbing supplies and HVAC equipment, while Post Airgas sells light industrial machinery.

The killings come just a few days after Mark Barton shot nine people at two Atlanta buildings where he had passed the time as a day trader. He also murdered his wife and two children.

Mr Barton, it emerged, had lost as much as $450,000 trading on stocks via the Internet. He had borrowed money from others at the day trading centres, and had taken cash from his children's trust fund, the Atlanta Constitution reported.

After the shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, earlier this year, America was suffused with grief and turned towards gun control. But that faded away, and the Atlanta killings did little to revive the attempts to limit firearms. Republicans in the US Congress moved quickly to snuff out efforts at gun control, aided by large sums of cash from the National Rifle Association.

Tragic though the deaths of three people may be, it is by no means unusual in America. What is unusual, however, is the growing tendency over the past few years for shootings to take place outside the poorest areas of American inner cities. Indeed, the crime rate and the number of murders has fallen precipitously across the country.

The killings have also sparked a parallel debate about values in America, with conservatives arguing that a cultural shift, not the profusion of armaments, is responsible for the deaths.

Though the Littleton killings involved automatic weapons, Barton used pistols, which are easily available and unlikely to be affected by new regulation.

A spokesman for the National Rifle Association, Bill Powers, said this week that efforts to limit guns were heading nowhere. "If they want to come out and debate a total handgun ban in America, that's a debate they'll lose with the American people," he said.