LOUISVILLE, Ky. — They survived Standard Gravure.
The shooting at the Louisville printing company is now a parking lot.
The physical reminder of the nightmare of that day 30 years ago may be gone, but the memories are clear for survivors.
Mike Campbell was shot six times. “All of a sudden the shots were ringing out. Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop,” he said.
Jacquie Miller was shot 4 times and her memory is the same, “Then I heard another pop, pop, pop and I thought this isn’t right. This really isn't right,” she said.
John Stein of New Albany shot twice, once in the head. “I’m crippled on my right side now,” he said.
Shortly after the mass shooting on September 14, 1989 (that term wasn’t even used in the news coverage of the day back then), Standard Gravure was torn down.
Mike Campbell came back to look at the site, “There's nothing there. There’s nothing there,” he said.
Jacquie Miller can’t move very well. We drove her back to 6th Street to see it.
She says, “When they were getting ready to hit the thing with the wrecking ball, I came down here and I sat and I looked at it and I told God, ‘you know I would really love to be the one to release that ball.’”
At 8:30 a.m. on that day, WHAS11 Chief Photographer Ken Bradley was on the job, when he noticed chaos.
He saw people streaming out of the plant and learned for the first time, the terror inside. His video shows people yelling, “In the pressroom, he's shooting people.”
Employees were also yelling the shooter’s name, one man says, “Where the hell is he – Wesbecker?”
Joseph Wesbecker, an employee who was on disability for mental illness, had suddenly showed up. He still inside shooting. He had an AK-47, and other guns. When then Louisville Police Chief laid out on a table all of the confiscated weapons and ammunition, it was clear he had more firepower, a bigger gun, than police were carrying at the time.
In 1989, Standard Gravure was not only of the country's first mass shootings, but one of the first workplace shootings.
It finally ended that morning when Wesbecker took his own life.
That day Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson rushed from City Hall to the plant and helped carry stretchers out of the building.
We stood where he stood outside next to a stretcher, 30 years ago.
“To tell you the truth I'd forgotten the building had been torn down. It was really scary. It was really scary. But the families that suffered so much they're the ones you have to feel for,” he said.
By that night at 11, the tragedy of Standard Gravure was becoming clear to us, 8 workers had been killed, 12 were shot and injured.
WHAS11 News Anchor Melissa Forsythe opened the newscast by introducing me at University Hospital.
Melissa: Doug Proffitt is live at University Hospital with the latest on the effort to save and treat the victims.
Doug: Melissa, the surgeries lasted all day, and some are still underway right now.
Mike Campbell was one of those in surgery. He remembers the morning of the shooting.
“I had no idea of any commotion going on, although it was following me it was coming behind me. It was just a normal day and all of a sudden, the door opened, and you've never seen a gun that big this far away, it is huge, it is huge. All of a sudden, the shots were ringing out. Pop, pop, pop, pop pop pop, the AK-47 has a thing on the trigger and it shoots three times, so he just went around the room and shot us three times.”
But for Campbell and the other men around him, Wesbecker wasn't finished. He came back for a second round.
“I was shot six times. Both arms and both legs. I was sitting down, so he shot through my legs and hit my knee, shattered me knee, went through my thigh twice and he shattered my elbow and tore a big chunk of skin out of my left arm,” he said.
Wesbecker started his reign of terror on the top floor. He was looking for the owners, the top executives of Standard Gravure.
Miller, who worked as a “floater” employee, was working in H.R. that day.
“I had a gun with me. I was going to stop and get my gun and a voice told me don't do that, if it’s nothing, you’ll get fired, you can't afford to lose your job, and unfortunately I went without my gun,” she said.
She came face to face with the 47-year-old Wesbecker.
“I came out the door I came through the door and turned, and I saw him, and he saw me. We just stood there, and we just stared at one another, and I’m telling you, there was nothing there. He was gone. Whatever makes us human was gone. And I knew, I was gonna die.”
Miller is pro-gun and that stance she says, has made her one of the most controversial of the survivors. She regrets not using it.
Miller believes, “If I had my gun, I would have taken him with me, and 12 other people would have not been involved.”
Shot in the chest, stomach, pelvis and right leg, the bullets all exited quickly. Miller has this outlook how being shot.
“He shot me 4 times with the AK-47. I was very blessed because he used the AK-47, I got to live.”
What does she mean by that? Miller said the bullets from the powerful weapon passed through her quickly and did not stay inside her which could have damaged organs.
But the assault weapon did its damage. John Stein was shot in the head.
“Above the ear. It ripped part of my scalp away,” he said.
Stein is surrounded by the big Stein family in southern Indiana.
One sister told us, “We have the man of steel standing here!”
His brother Jim is equally amazed.
“I don't think there’s been a day in his life that he wasn't relentlessly working on getting better,” he said.
John doesn’t remember the day of the shooting or anything about it.
He's since been told, he was at an elevator, “the gunman inside, reloaded opened fire at point blank range, out two feet, three feet. Couple of maintenance guys shot also and they died.”
He had to re-learn his ABC's, talk and walk again. He does remember the first words he put together, when then IU basketball coach Bobby Knight called him in the hospital. Stein said, “Golly Moses.”
Stein and others thought maybe Standard Gravure would be the tragedy that changed the country. The mass shootings today? He says, “It is unbelievable, they can't bring it to a conclusion.”
Stein wants gun control on assault weapons not personal weapons. The opinions about mass shootings, among the victims, is on polar opposites.
Miller views it this way, “Standard Gravure? They haven't learned anything from any of these shootings. All these people scream gun gun gun, well I want to tell people something, that day I was shot, that gun did not walk in by itself.”
Miller and Mike Campbell agree on one thing, Prozac, a new depression drug in 1989, which later went on trial after the shooting, was one factor in their opinions.
Campbell remembers the trial and says, “he said himself that it made him feel like he had bugs in his head. The Prozac exacerbated what was going on with him at that time, that was not a good drug for him, the doctor already said I'm going to take him off of that.”
Miller is blunt. “A human being, getting psychiatric help, on a bad psychiatric drug, that they knew he couldn't take, shot me.”
As the Mayor of a city now dealing with a massive tragedy, Abramson had been up close to the injuries.
“I’d never seen what an assault weapon could do to a human body and having seen that it was very clear in my mind no need so anyone to have them but for the United States Military,” he said.
The former mayor says the 10-year ban on assault weapons should never have been allowed to expire in 2004. He agrees, sadly, Standard Gravure has been forgotten, “I think that's true. We've become callous as a society.”
Miller says, “The Standard Gravure people have been forgotten. There is no legacy.”
Campbell wishes the country had changed with the local tragedy, “It just took a big chunk out of my life, that's all I can say.”
Talking about it 30 years later is tough for Stein, that's why he was surrounded by his family. He's remarkably straight forward.
“Get over it and getting forward,” he said.
And when it comes to the haunting legacy of Louisville's worst work place violence?
Stein says, “Who's Standard Gravure? Who's the shootings? They don't remember any more.”
Here at WHAS-TV, we’ve never forgotten. The printing plant was located behind us. We saw those workers every morning and night.
Here the Standard Gravure employees who died:
Richard O. Barger, 54
*Kenneth Fentress, 45
William Ganote, 46
James G. Husband, 47
Sharon L. L. Needy, 49
Paul Sallee, 59
Lloyd White, 42
James F. Wible Sr., 56
*Joseph Wesbecker, gunman, 47