Mom of Fla. office shooting suspect apologizes to victims; attorney says man is mentally ill

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Mom of Fla. office shooting suspect apologizes

ORLANDO, Fla. — The mother of a man charged with killing a worker and wounding five others at the Orlando engineering firm where he once worked has apologized to the victims.

Ana Rodriguez told reporters Saturday that she is “so sorry” for the shooting. She spoke after a judge ordered her son, 40-year-old Jason Rodriguez, held without bail at the Orange County Jail in Orlando.

His attorney, Bob Wesley, told reporters Jason Rodriguez “is a very, very mentally ill person.”

Police said Rodriguez told detectives he blamed the firm for recent trouble he had receiving unemployment benefits.

The man killed in the Friday shooting was identified by police as 26-year-old Otis Beckford. The five wounded people were in stable condition at Orlando hospitals and police say all are expected to survive.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The engineer accused of fatally shooting one worker and wounding five others at the firm where he once worked appeared briefly in court Saturday and was ordered held without bond.

A judge ordered that Jason Rodriguez, 40, be held without bail at the Orange County Jail in Orlando for Friday’s shooting. His defense attorney, Bob Wesley, asked the judge that police and prosecutors have no contact with Rodriguez without his permission.

Employees at Reynolds, Smith and Hills recognized their former co-worker when he drew a handgun from a holster under his shirt, police said, and killed Otis Beckford, 26, next to a receptionist’s desk in an office at a downtown Orlando tower. He then walked into the office and unloaded several more rounds, wounding five other employees at the company he had been fired from two years ago.

Rodriguez was taken into custody several hours after the shooting, and police say he will be charged with first-degree murder and other crimes.

Police said Rodriguez told detectives he blamed the firm for recent trouble he had receiving unemployment benefits. As officers led him handcuffed into a police station Friday, a reporter asked the divorced 40-year-old why he had attacked his former colleagues.

“Because they left me to rot,” said Rodriguez, who recently told a bankruptcy judge he was making less than $30,000 a year at a Subway sandwich shop and had debts of nearly $90,000.

All the victims worked at Reynolds, Smith and Hills, where Rodriguez was an entry-level engineer for 11 months before he was fired in June 2007, the company said.

Beckford was hit by at least two bullets. The gunman then went into the common work area and opened fire on his other victims. The Orlando Sentinel reported that Beckford had a young daughter and a fiancee.

The five wounded people were in stable condition at Orlando hospitals and police say all are expected to survive. Four of the victims, three men and a woman ranging in age from 23 to 49, were recovering Saturday at Orlando Regional Medical Center, said hospital spokeswoman Katie Dagenais.

Hours after the shootings that paralyzed downtown Orlando, police tracked Rodriguez to his mother’s home and ordered him to come out. He surrendered peacefully, apologizing as officers handcuffed him, police said.

“I’m just going through a tough time right now. I’m sorry,” officers quoted him as saying.

Rodriguez worked on drawings in the firm’s transportation group, but his supervisors said his performance was not up to their standards, and when he did not improve, he was fired. The company did not hear from him again.

“This is really a mystery to us,” said Ken Jacobson, the firm’s general legal counsel and chief financial officer. “There was nothing to indicate any hard feelings.”

Rodriguez told detectives that the company had fired him without cause and had made him look incompetent. He told them he was unemployed for a year and a half before getting a job at a Subway, where worked until recently.

He told them the shop couldn’t give him enough hours, and he later filed for unemployment. He expected to get a check recently but when it didn’t arrive he blamed Reynolds, Smith and Hills, thinking it was harming his efforts to qualify, police said. He told police he could no longer support his family.

Rodriguez’ bankruptcy filing and his former mother-in-law suggested he was plagued by money woes.

Les Winograd, a spokesman for Milford, Conn.-based Subway Restaurants, said Rodriguez had worked for one of the sandwich shops in the Orlando area until six weeks ago. He would not say whether Rodriguez was fired.

His ex-wife’s mother, America Holloway, told The Associated Press that Rodriguez and her daughter, Neshby, were married for about 6½ years before divorcing several years ago. They have an 8-year-old son who lives with Neshby in Kissimmee, about a half-hour away.

Holloway said the couple lived with her in Orlando for several years and that Rodriguez abused her daughter and once threw all her clothes into the street.

“I used to tell my daughter he was crazy,” Holloway said. “He was always fighting, always yelling. There was always problems.”

After the divorce, Rodriguez seldom saw his son, but he called last week while the child was at Holloway’s house and the boy asked his father why he did not come over, too.

“He said, ‘Because I don’t have any money. I don’t have a job. I don’t have anything to eat. When things get better, I’ll come see you,’” Holloway said Rodriguez told his son.

Charles Price, an attorney who represented Rodriguez in his bankruptcy case, said he could not comment on specifics of the matter. He had not seen Rodriguez since the summer.

The Sentinel reported that Rodriguez was detained by the Orange County Sheriff’s Office in June 2007 after it received a report that he was a “danger to self and others.”

Nursing aide Denise Exume, 39, told The Associated Press on Friday that during the 2007 incident she was asked to watch him after he was taken to Florida Hospital-East in Orlando for a mental health exam. He wasn’t allowed to leave the room, but he stood up and said he wanted to use the bathroom. Exume tried to block him.

“He just pushed me,” she said. He left, and she was evaluated in the emergency room and didn’t press charges. The hospital declined comment, citing privacy laws.

Associated Press writers Travis Reed, Kelli Kennedy, Jennifer Kay, Laura Wides-Munoz, David Fischer and Damian Grass in Miami; Mitch Stacy, Matt Sedensky and Tamara Lush in Orlando; and Christine Armario in Tampa contributed to this report.

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