LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - They’d gone 90 days without a workplace injury. They’ve gone 30 years with the horrible workplace memories.
On Sept. 14th, 1989, the sign inside the Standard Gravure printing plant was supposed to spell “Danger.” But the "D" was blacked out, to reveal only “anger.”
Both words described what happened next.
“This door opened and this muzzle about as big as that camera when he pushed it open,” wounded shooting survivor Mike Campbell said. “He just went pow pow pow.”
A disgruntled worker who’d been vowing for a year to get even after being placed on disability walked in with a duffel bag full of guns. He went with the AK-47.
“He shot everybody three times,” Campbell said. “Stepped outside, pulled the clip out, loaded, come back in and started backwards.”
Mike Campbell was shot six times in a lunchroom filled with guys who had nowhere to go.
“When I went down on the table, I turned my head that way, opposite of him,” Campbell said. “Hoping he wouldn’t see me breathe. I was lowering my breath and I thought, ‘What the hell, what was happening, I’m gonna get shot.’ I got shot, I have no idea why or anything else.”
“I sorta curled up,” wounded shooting survivor Gordon Scherer said. “Laid on one side, (tried) to show I wasn’t breathing. I didn’t want to move a finger.”
Scherer was in the lunchroom, too. It’s taken 30 years, but he finally agreed to talk about it.
“I just laid there,” Scherer said. “Open my eyes, floor’s just covered in blood. I didn’t know if I could move my arms, legs, then the door came open and it started all over again. He emptied it again.”
“People were hiding under their desks,” retired LMPD officer William Ball said. “Couple gentlemen were hiding in the bathroom.”
There was no such thing as active shooter training in 1989. No police policy. The first arriving officers rushed inside without body armor along with TV news photographers.
“It’s that old saying, ‘You’d rather be a dead hero than a live coward,’” Ball said. “The thing I remember about that day, none of us had any regard of getting injured.”
“We went in the door and got on the elevator and went up to the second floor,” retired LMPD officer Jim Woosley said. “You could smell gunpowder in the elevator.”
On Sept. 14, 1989, Louisville learned it didn’t have enough ambulances or gurneys so police rushed victims to the hospital in their patrol cars.
“At the time I was thinking, ‘Why doesn’t EMS come?’” Woosley said. “Where is EMS? But they were there, just overwhelmed, didn’t have the personnel or the equipment to handle that kind of situation at that time.”
Somehow Scherer got out of the trapped lunchroom, hit only once, by a bullet that had travelled through his dead co-worker.
“I got outside the doors to the guard shack,” Scherer said. “And the guards grabbed me and said, ‘Sit down here, you’re hurt bad,’ and I said, ‘Hell you don’t know what bad is.’”
When the gunman killed himself, there were eight bodies to transport after the 12 wounded survivors.
Thirty years later, the Standard Gravure massacre doesn’t even make the 20 deadliest U.S. shootings list anymore. The plant is long gone. But if you turn on the TV after what seems like monthly mass shootings now, you’ll hear the same soundbites we aired 30 years ago.
“It’s unfortunate that some people blame an object like this for a person’s problems,” gun shop owner Ray Yeager said in WAVE 3 News’ coverage the day after the shootings.
“I cannot understand why a country as progressive as ours would allow any citizen to own an assault rifle, which by its description defines its purpose,” Mike Campbell’s wife, Betty, said in WAVE 3 News’ coverage the day after the shootings.
One thing has changed since then. All three wounded survivors we interviewed have severe PTSD.
I caught up with Jacquie Miller as she was being evicted from her apartment. Shot four times that day, she had seven surgeries on her leg. But what’s going on in her head to this day is the real problem.
“I wake up mornings,” Miller said. “Most people wake up and they see what’s in their bedroom. Sheets. The window. I see blood. I see my blood and my insides, all the skin that got blown out of me running down the wall of Standard Gravure.”
Campbell didn’t start suffering from PTSD until eight years ago.
“I’ll get up sometimes and be crazy,” Campbell said. “Can’t you see that person over there? There would be people in the room walking through.”
The first time Scherer left the house two years after the shooting, there was a birthday party at the restaurant he chose.
“Somebody saw fit to start popping balloons,” Scherer said. “With that, I turned tables and chairs over. I went into all kinds of stuff, made a mess before I got out of there, but I got out of there.”
He got out of the restaurant.
He got out of Standard Gravure.
And he got out of our interview early because he kept breaking down and I could tell how badly it was tearing him up to relive it all.
The only question left is one I don’t have to ask. He asks it all the time.
“I wonder why I’m still here,” Scherer said.