’I don’t think anybody could scream’ -- Standard Gravure massacre case file released

Published: Dec. 19, 2019 at 6:23 PM EST
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - 911 Caller: "643 South 6th Street. Standard Gravure. We're injured. There've been five, six shots fired. We need help."

911 Dispatch: “OK we’ll get out there.”

When the 911 calls started coming in and the police started going in on Sept. 14, 1989, workplace mass shootings didn’t happen.

911 Caller: "There’s a bunch of explosions going on the third floor.

911 Dispatch: “Sir, is it gunfire or fire?”

911 Caller: “We can’t tell. Sounds like gunfire. I’m at the opposite end of the hall, and we can’t tell. Nobody here wants to go up and find out.”

Soon, they would find out 20 people had been shot. Eight died. Then, gunman Joseph Wesbecker killed himself.

News video that day was chaotic, contrasting with the video shot a few hours later by police with bodies, blood, and bullets still all over the printing plant and eerily quiet narration of spent clips and shell casings. Hours of bullets in the walls, ceiling, elevator, hallways, on the floors, even in rooms Wesbecker never entered with doors closed.

Police video showed guns left in Wesbecker’s duffel bag. The AK-47 he was seen testing two months earlier was on the floor. Another gun and bullets were still in his pocket. There were five guns total and more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition not used. No one knows why he stopped when he did.

Perhaps more eerie than the silence during the police walk-through was the silence while workers were being shot, especially the guys trapped in the break room.

“When it started,” wounded survivor Gordon Scherer said, “I just knew he was walking all over the top of us, blowing our heads off.”

“When the bullets hit you,” wounded survivor Mike Campbell said, “my leg flew, my arms flew. I was on the table laying across the table. It’s just a searing burn.”

“Nobody made a peep when this was going on,” Scherer said. “No screams. No yells. And I think it was just fear. I don’t think anybody could scream. I don’t think anybody could holler. Even after we laid there afterwards.”

“Nobody made a sound after that,” Campbell said. “Nobody complained. What do you do when you’re staring down a gun that has just ripped everybody apart?”

More haunting than the video too horrific to show were the last words uttered by some of the victims, according to police interviews with survivors. When Wesbecker stepped off the elevator and began shooting at the reception desk, a worker who survived, paralyzed, heard Sharon Needy screaming.

“I thought it was a joke,” the worker said. Then, silence.

When Jim Wible was seen in the pressroom jumping around screaming, “Lord help me; I’ve been shot,” workers who had no idea what was going on yelled “cut that out; it ain’t funny.” Wible kept repeating “I’m not kidding, I’ve been shot.”

“Get up, you silly SOB,” one responded. Afterward, survivors said they felt badly that quicker action might have saved his life.

When the guys in the break room heard a noise that sounded like a shotgun, Kenny Fentress said, “Aw, don’t worry, it’s probably just Wesbecker coming in to finish everyone off.”

After all of them laughed, Wesbecker opened the door and started shooting. Fentress did not survive.

Perhaps the most disturbing part of the police file was the widespread knowledge of Wesbecker’s threats after being put on long-term disability in his longtime feud with the company. Wesbecker started talking about killing people six to eight years earlier, and was obsessed with killing his bosses.

Wesbecker’s boss, Don Cox, advised his children to change their route for school, and Cox had changed his route to work.

The shop that sold him one of his guns decided not to sell him any ammunition because he was “acting rather strange.”

The stacks of medical records showed a steady, alarming deterioration that started five years earlier with Wesbecker’s first hospitalization after two suicide attempts and his confession of homicidal thoughts. Then, records note 12 to 15 suicide attempts by carbon monoxide poisoning, sleeping pills, and hanging attempts. On Sept. 11, 1989, only three days before the massacre, Dr. Lee Coleman noted, “Patient seems to have deteriorated. Weeping in session. Increased level of agitation and anger.” What did the doctor do? He “discontinued Prozac” and “encouraged patient to go into the hospital but he refused.”

Dr. Coleman refused to talk to WAVE 3 News for this report. So did several wounded survivors. They said it’s still too painful.

When you watch the video recorded by police officers walking through Standard Gravure just like the gunman did a couple hours earlier, you understand. And you can’t help but wonder how it could have been different, why some lived and some died, and why the only thing that has changed 30 years later is the frequency of the carnage.

Copyright 2019 WAVE 3 News. All rights reserved.