They were just doing their jobs.
What started out as a routine inspection call at a factory turned into unspeakable tragedy just after 2 p.m. on Wednesday for four state and federal inspectors in California.
Angered by what he saw as government interference into his business, the owner of a San Leandro, CA, sausage factory shot three of the inspectors to death in a corner office his factory and tried to kill a fourth, pursuing him as he ran off down the street.
Stuart Alexander is in custody today following the shootings at the Santos Linguisa sausage factory, which has been in Alexander's family for three generations. The factory, which employs approximately 10 workers, recently reopened after being closed for two months for health violations. Alexander is expected to be charged with murder and attempted murder, with federal charges possible.
Alexander apparently snapped during the afternoon visit by the inspectors. The victims, whose names have not been released, included two men and one woman; two were inspectors for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and one was a state meat inspector.
After failing to kill the fourth inspector, Alexander, 39, turned around, put the gun down, and waited outside the factory. He was captured without incident.
Saying he was "shocked and deeply saddened" to learn of the shooting of the two USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service employees and the California Department of Food and Agriculture employee, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman said he extends his deepest sympathies to their families and co-workers.
"Every day thousands of USDA inspectors work to ensure the safety of America's food supply. They perform an extraordinary public service, one that is essential to protecting public health and safety. We often take their hard work and diligence for granted, never expecting them to face danger in the line of duty," said Glickman.
California Gov. Gray Davis called the killings an "unspeakably barbarous act," and ordered flags at state-owned buildings to be flown at half-staff in honor of the slain state inspector. "These investigators were working hard, doing their jobs, protecting California consumers," Davis said.
Alexander, a former mayoral candidate in San Leandro, claimed that health and FDA inspectors were unfairly harassing him. He posted a sign outside his factory that said: "To all our great customers, the USDA is coming into our plant harassing my employees and me, making it impossible to make our great product. Gee, if all meat plants could be in business for 79 years without one complaint, the meat inspectors would not have jobs. Therefore, we are taking legal action against them."
Friends of Alexander said that he was under financial and personal pressure and that he was angered by what he saw as the government's interference into the sausage-making process. Inspectors allegedly wanted him to raise the temperature of the meat while he prepared the sausage.
Although one friend described Alexander as "mild-mannered" and backed up his allegations of harassment by government inspectors, others in the community said that he was outspoken and abrasive at times.
Alexander has a history of failing to control his temper, according to court records in San Leandro. He was arrested in 1996 on several charges, including suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon and elder abuse, after he allegedly attacked his 75-year-old neighbor following an argument over garbage on Alexander's property. Alexander paid his neighbor $10,000 and the charges were dropped, according to court records.
Alexander was also under financial strain. He filed for bankruptcy twice, most recently in January.
By Sandy Smith