#RizzNews: Gunman kills 2 Laclede Gas workers in St. Louis, then himself; Lincoln County man accused of attacking woman with hammer; AND MORE
Gunman kills 2 Laclede Gas workers in St. Louis, then himself
A gunman opened fire on a Laclede Gas crew working in the city’s Hamilton Heights neighborhood, killing two men in the bizarre attack before shooting and killing himself Thursday morning, police and a witness said.
There’s no known motive in the attack, police say, and for the time being they say it may have been random.
The shooting was reported about 11:15 a.m. in the 5900 block of Minerva Avenue, on the western edge of the city. Police said two Laclede Gas workers, one in his 20s and the other in his 50s, were fatally injured when the gunman opened fire, according to St. Louis police Capt. Mary Warnecke.
She said it appeared the gunman fired at them “randomly.”
The gunman then walked off and killed himself.
With the motive unknown, Laclede Gas and several other utility companies pulled employees from some St. Louis work sites as a precaution.
Manyika McCoy, 37, told the Post-Dispatch the workers were there to connect gas service to a home she was moving into on Minerva. One was using a jackhammer and another was in a backhoe.
She said she talked and joked with them briefly before walking down the block to her mother’s house. McCoy, who is pregnant, joined her mother and three young children in the yard there.
They noticed a man walking briskly up the street, as if with a purpose, but nothing about him really stood out to them. Then, they heard gunshots.
“I heard pop, pop,” McCoy said. She wondered if it was fireworks but looked up to see the gunman firing at the workers. The worker in the backhoe stumbled out.
“He was saying, ‘Wait, wait,” and the guy just kept shooting at him,” McCoy said. The worker eventually collapsed in the street, she said.
McCoy believes she heard six shots total. She was trying to get the children — her son, 4, and nephew, 4, and her daughter, 2 — into the house, and fumbled with her cellphone.
“I was calling 911 in one hand and Jesus in the other,” she said.
She said she didn’t hear the gunman say anything before, during or after the shooting. McCoy said she didn’t recognize the man and didn’t know where he went. She and her family feared he was on the loose until police said he had killed himself.
One of the Laclede workers and the gunman died at the scene, police said. The other worker was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead a short time later.
The gunman suffered a self-inflicted wound to the head, police said. A gun was found near him.
Co-workers of the Laclede employees gathered at the scene of the shooting Thursday. They called loved ones to let them know they were OK, and consoled one another.
In a brief statement, Laclede Gas said employees there were “heartbroken.”
“We are shocked and grieving today after two of our Laclede Gas employees were shot and killed this morning at one of our job sites,” the statement said.
“We are connecting with their loved ones now. And, we are working with police to understand more about this crisis. We are heartbroken, as you can imagine, and ask that you hold these employees, their families, their friends, Laclede Gas workers and our communities in your thoughts and prayers.”
Laclede Gas and some other area utilities, including Ameren Missouri, the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District and Missouri American Water, pulled employees from some St. Louis work sites as a precaution. Some said workers would get safety reminders.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims’ family members and co-workers at Laclede Gas during this difficult time,” Ameren Missouri’s senior vice president of customer operations, Mark Birk, said in a statement.
McCoy said the workers had been sweet and funny in their brief interaction before the shootings. She said she couldn’t believe what happened.
“My heart goes out to the victims and their families,” she said. “Words can’t express my feelings right now.”
Her mother, Alice Spann, 59, said the area has an active neighborhood watch, and she goes to the meetings.
“We hear about this, but we never see it,” she said. “Those men came to work today to lose their lives. ... It was so quick, and they were innocent people.”
Lance Eason, 29, watched as police worked the crime scene early Thursday afternoon.
“I think they need an escort to protect them in areas like this,” Eason said. “Crime is up, and some people think they don’t have anything to lose.”
Eason said people are walking the streets with mental issues and down on their luck.
“We are all at risk,” he said.
Lincoln County man accused of attacking woman with hammer
The Lincoln County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office charged a 21-year-old man in a suspected domestic assault case for allegedly using a hammer to attack a 24-year-old woman.
According to prosecutors, the incident occurred April 16. The victim told law enforcement she was with Levi Lauck at a family event. She posted a picture of the family event using her Snapchat app, which upset Lauck. The two got into a verbal and physical altercation, she said.
The two then left in Lauck’s vehicle a short time later, prosecutors said. Lauck’s family asked the victim to drive because Lauck was intoxicated. After they left the family gathering, Lauck made the victim stop the vehicle so he could drive home. The victim said Lauck continued to get angry and then struck her with his hand several times while he drove.
The situation escalated to the point where Lauck pulled over somewhere in the area of Lake St. Louis and got a hammer from the trunk of his vehicle. Lauck continued driving and struck the victim in her face and body with the blunt and claw ends of the hammer. The victim grabbed a small backpack to help shield her from the blows.
Once they arrived back at Lauck’s residence on Portwood Meadows, he allegedly forced the victim out of the car and made her undress to take a shower. While she undressed, prosecutors said Lauck kicked her in the face and knocked out front tooth.
Lauck continued to physically abuse the woman, but she eventually escaped the home and ran to a nearby neighbor’s home where she stayed overnight. The next day, the victim got a ride to her parents’ home in O’Fallon.
The victim checked herself in at Progress West Hospital on April 17, but asked hospital officials not to involve law enforcement. She was discharged the same day, but came back two days later because of complications stemming from her injuries. Hospital staff then contacted the sheriff’s office.
Responding detectives noted the victim’s ear had been swollen shut; her left eye, arms, and legs were discolored due to internal bleeding; she suffered a left hand laceration, as well as a head injury.
Authorities arrested Lauck on April 19. He was charged with first-degree kidnapping, first-degree domestic assault causing serious physical injury, second-degree domestic assault, and fourth-degree domestic assault. Lauck remains in custody at Lincoln County Jail on a $200,000 cash-only bond.
Nursing home owner in Festus says he spent Medicaid funds on strippers]
How did conditions get so bad at a Festus nursing home last summer that the state needed to rescue 60 residents?
That question was finally answered in federal court on Wednesday. The owner admitted he stole more than $667,000 from Medicaid and spent much of it on strippers, gambling, pet care and country club fees.
Johnnie Mac Sells, 52, pleaded guilty on Wednesday in U.S. District Court to two counts of health care fraud. The accusations were first made public at the hearing. He could face 37 months in prison at sentencing, set for July 25. He also will have to pay back the money.
A Post-Dispatch investigation in September showed how Benchmark Healthcare, a nursing home on Highway TT, became a dirty and dangerous place as Sells, its president, faced a mountain of debt.
Bills went unpaid. The phones were shut off. Paychecks bounced. Trash piled up. Flies swarmed. And food deliveries stopped.
A patient advocate described the situation as “a disaster.”
Missouri state health officials went to court in July to put Benchmark into emergency receivership. They backed down when food deliveries resumed, but in a follow-up visit in August, inspectors found that four residents were not getting medicines they needed for congestive heart failure, epilepsy and schizophrenia because pharmacy bills had not been paid in months.
On Sept. 13, the state finally took the rare step of closing the nursing home and relocating 60 residents to other facilities.
In court Wednesday, prosecutors revealed that for three years starting in 2013, Sells stole a large portion of funds provided by Medicaid for Benchmark residents, jeopardizing their health. During periods of 2014 and 2015, Sells used Benchmark’s debit card to pay $185,000 at adult entertainment clubs and $15,000 on pet care. He also spent $4,500 at casinos and $12,000 at his country club.
He wrote company checks and made wire transfers totaling $439,000 into his personal accounts, separate from “the substantial salary that he was paid by Benchmark.” He also transferred $153,000 to a close relative.
He also wrote two company checks in August 2016 to pay a total of $3,500 in bail bonds. Sells was charged that month in St. Charles County with domestic abuse and sexual misconduct. According to prosecutors, he slammed his girlfriend through a glass coffee table and exposed his genitals to her 12-year-old son. A jury trial is scheduled for June 27. In an interview last year, Sells said that he “didn’t beat anybody.”
Sells appeared in U.S. District Court on Wednesday. In a calm voice, he acknowledged to Judge John A. Ross that he understood what he was doing by waiving his right to an indictment and trial. Ross indicated his sentence could be reduced somewhat by his cooperation.
Sells’ attorney, Scott Rosenblum, told Ross that his client struggled with drug and alcohol addiction but had been sober “for some time.”
Sells declined to comment as he left court. In a previous interview with a reporter he said he wished he had an answer to explain how conditions had gotten so bad at Benchmark.
There is now nothing left of the nursing home empire, Legacy Health Systems, established in 1938 in southeastern Missouri by Sells’ grandmother, Clara Sells.
The business had expanded into a $100 million company with 2,000 patients and 1,600 employees in 27 facilities across Missouri, Kentucky and Tennessee before its collapse.
In recent years, Legacy sold almost all of its assets or had them seized by creditors. The Festus location was one of three homes left in the company’s portfolio. At the time of the Benchmark closing, about 200 residents lived at its two remaining facilities in Sikeston, Mo., and Puryear, Tenn.
Johnnie Mac Sells’ son Ben, 26, and some other family members later bought the Sikeston home out of foreclosure; the Puryear home also has a new owner.
Missing Tenn. student Elizabeth Thomas found, former teacher Tad Cummins arrested in California
Former Tennessee teacher Tad Cummins, who is accused of kidnapping his 15-year-old student, was arrested in northern California Thursday after more than a month on the run, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
The student, Elizabeth Thomas, has been rescued, officials said, describing her as "healthy" and "unharmed."
Around 11 p.m. Wednesday, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation received a call to its tip line about a possible sighting of the duo, according to TBI public information officer Josh Devine. The Siskiyou County Sheriff's Office in California had received a similar tip, he said.
Once investigators located a Nissan Rogue, they were able to confirm through its VIN number that it belonged to Cummins. The car was then kept under surveillance for several hours.
Authorities from the Siskiyou County Sheriff's Office found the pair at a cabin in a rural area in Cecilville early Thursday morning. Deputies set up a perimeter around the cabin and elected to wait until the morning to arrest Cummins as he exited the residence, the sheriff's department said in a press release.
As daylight broke, Cummins surrendered without incident and Elizabeth was safely recovered by law enforcement officers, according to the TBI. Two loaded handguns were found in the cabin, according to the sheriff's office.
According to ABC affiliate KDRV, the man letting them stay there said he wasn't aware for the past 36 hours that the two were sought after by authorities.
Cummins is charged with aggravated kidnapping and sexual contact with a minor, according to Lawrence County Attorney General Brent Cooper.
The U.S. State Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Tennessee has also filed a federal charge of transportation of a minor across state lines with intent of having criminal sexual intercourse against Cummins, said U.S. attorney Jack Smith. The charge carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison.
Cummins also faces charges in Siskiyou County for kidnapping and possession of stolen property, according to the sheriff's office. The charges are pending review by Siskiyou County District Attorney Kirk Andrus.
It could take several weeks for Cummins to be extradited to Tennessee, Smith said.
Efforts to reunite Elizabeth with her family remain ongoing. A TBI aircraft is on its way to California and will bring Elizabeth, who is currently in FBI custody in Redding, California, home to Tennessee, authorities said.
Elizabeth is expected to board a TBI private jet bound for Tennessee Friday morning, said the attorney representing the Thomas family, Jason Whatley. Her family is "anxiously" waiting to speak with her for the first time since she went missing, Whatley said.
Whatley speculated that Cummins had planned an escape to the northwest due to a sighting of the pair at an Oklahoma City Wal-Mart along Interstate 44, which leads to California. He said that a special police unit were able to rescue Elizabeth after they "swooped in" the cabin with "force."
The family is elated that their daughter has been found, Whatley said. They will not make a media statement until they have spoken to Elizabeth.
The main concern for the teen at this point is her mental and emotional state, authorities said. Whatley said the family's priority is first to get Elizabeth back and then getting the help that she needs so she can "get on with her life."
“Our intelligence analysts and agents have worked tirelessly since issuing this AMBER Alert to process more than 1,500 leads from all 50 states,” TBI director Mark Gwyn said in a statement. “What happened in California this morning, however, proves it only takes one person to lead to a successful end. We are extremely thankful the hard work of all partners in this search has paid off. We’re also grateful for the public’s support and vigilance throughout this search effort.”
Authorities received about 1,500 tips in the search for Elizabeth, said Matt Espenshade, FBI special agent-in-charge for the Nashville bureau.
"It only takes one tip," Gwyn said. "This is yet another example of the value of the public helping us to rescue a kidnapping victim."
Siskiyou County is in the northernmost part of California and located near the Oregon border.
Cummins, 50, was wanted on allegations of aggravated kidnapping and sexual contact with a minor. The former teacher was also added to Tennessee’s 10 most wanted list.
According to the TBI, Cummins remained in the custody of the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Department without bond on Thursday while he awaits extradition to Tennessee to face charges of aggravated kidnapping and sexual contact with a minor.
The Siskiyou County Sheriff's Department told ABC News that Cummins will be arraigned Friday.
Elizabeth has been missing since Cummins allegedly kidnapped her on March 13. A day after they disappeared, he was fired from his teaching job at Culleoka Unit School, where Elizabeth had been a student in his forensics class.
Cummins, a married father and grandfather, researched teen marriage online, specifically the age of consent, just eight days before he allegedly took Elizabeth. Three days before the alleged kidnapping, Cummins did an online search about his car “to determine if certain features could be tracked by law enforcement,” according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
“He was certainly putting a lot of planning into disappearing,” Brent Cooper, the district attorney for Maury County, Tennessee, told ABC News in an interview earlier this month. “He searched what size mattress will fit in the back of a Nissan Rogue.”
Investigators have discovered email draft messages between Elizabeth and Cummins, which authorities said show a romantic relationship between them. According to authorities, after one of them would write a message, he or she would save the message as a draft, and the other person would log on, read the message and delete it.
One of Elizabeth's schoolmates reported seeing her and Cummins kiss in his classroom on Jan. 23, according to a school district investigative report, but both denied the claim. A school report from January reads that neither one "admitted to behaving inappropriately towards the other."
Gwyn, the TBI director, said earlier this month, "This is not a fairy tale. This is a case of kidnapping."
Investigators obtained images from surveillance cameras at a Walmart in Oklahoma City showing Cummins and Elizabeth on the afternoon of March 15, two days after he allegedly abducted her. But there had been no other credible sightings.
The surveillance images showed Cummins “with an altered appearance to darken his hair” and indicated that “Elizabeth may currently have red hair,” according to the TBI.
The surveillance footage showed them entering the store together, where Cummins used cash to buy food. He didn’t buy “anything else of significance,” the TBI said.
At the time, investigators were still trying to determine what vehicle they were traveling in.
Last week, the Maury County district attorney told ABC News that Cummins is on medication to control his blood pressure and should need a refill. Pharmacists were asked to be on alert for customers who look like Cummins or Thomas.
Cooper also told ABC News that Cummins left a note for his wife the morning he vanished. Cooper didn't provide details on what was in the note, but said it appeared to have been a diversion to throw investigators off the trail.
A lawyer for Cummins' wife, Jill Cummins, said she has filed for divorce after 31 years of marriage.
"Jill will attempt to move forward with her life," attorney Michael Cox said in a statement provided to ABC News on March 31. "Jill continues to pray for the safe return of Elizabeth Thomas and for a peaceful resolution to this ordeal."
Benton Taco Bell Loses Thousands After Scam Phone Call
A local Taco Bell was robbed of thousands of dollars Tuesday after employees fell victim to a scam phone call.