Shooting spree at Orlando office appears driven by suspect’s failures in life

By Mike Schneider, AP
Saturday, November 7, 2009

Office shooting suspect’s life spiraled downward

ORLANDO, Fla. — Jason Rodriguez’s marriage long ago went sour, his home taken in foreclosure, his job lost to incompetence, his finances sunk in bankruptcy. It was a “stress overload” for the man accused of a deadly shooting rampage at his former office, his lawyer said Saturday.

The 40-year-old man whose life seemed to just keep getting worse was charged Saturday with first-degree murder, accused of killing one and wounding five Friday at his former office. He said nothing in his brief court appearance Saturday, but his attorney portrayed him as a mentally ill man who fell victim to countless problems.

“This guy is a compilation of the front page of the entire year — unemployment, foreclosure, bankruptcy, divorce — all of the stresses,” said the public defender, Bob Wesley. “He has been declining in mental health. There is no logic whatsoever, which points to a mental health case. It looks like a classic case of stress overload.”

Police refused to say anything more Saturday about their investigation into the shooting. But as Rodriguez remained on suicide watch at the Orange County Jail, a portrait of his crumbling life began to emerge.

He couldn’t pay the child support he owed for his 8-year-old son. He was nearly $90,000 behind on bills, his bankruptcy file showed. A once-promising, but short-lived career at an engineering firm faded into a job at a fast-food chain.

Wesley described his client as “very, very mentally ill” but offered no specifics. His former mother-in-law, America Holloway, said he was a schizophrenic who was constantly paranoid, blaming others for all of his woes and who always thought everyone disliked him.

The suspect’s own mother struggled Saturday for words to defend her son. She could only muster an apology.

“Sorry for the families involved,” Ana Rodriguez said. “I’m really very sorry, it is very hurtful.”

Police said Rodriguez himself also offered words of remorse as he was handcuffed Friday, explaining he was just going through a tough time. But it offered little solace to victims, all of whom worked at Reynolds, Smith and Hills, where the suspect was an entry-level engineer for 11 months before being fired in June 2007.

Identified as the single fatality in the shooting spree was Otis Beckford, 26, the father of a 7-month-old daughter who was standing near the receptionist’s desk when the gunman entered the office.

Beckford’s mother told The Palm Beach Post that she had last talked to him Thursday night, firming up the family’s Thanksgiving plans.

“Now, he won’t be there,” Icilda Cole told the newspaper. “Such a shame! I had two children. Otis and my daughter. I have one left. I never thought something like this would happen to him.”

Five others were wounded: Gregory Hornbeck, 39; Ferrell Hickson, 40; Guy Lugenbeel, 62; Edward Severino; 34; and Keyondra Harrison; 27. All were in stable or good condition at Orlando hospitals and were expected to survive. Several employees reached Saturday said the firm has told them not to publicly discuss the shooting.

The Legion Place building, where the shooting occurred, remained cordoned off Saturday with police tape, though some workers returned to get purses and other belongings left behind in a scramble to escape. Courtney Moore, a paralegal on the building’s 17th floor, returned for her car, and remembered frequently sharing an elevator with Beckford or seeing him in the cafeteria.

“He was always so polite and friendly,” she said.

As for Rodriguez, a neighbor said he moved into his mother’s apartment about six weeks ago and said his appearance had grown disheveled in recent weeks. Cassandra Mizhir said she found Rodriguez “creepy” — whenever she sat out on her back porch to smoke a cigarette, he would stand on his nearby balcony and stare at her.

She said he would sit outside the low-slung, seafoam green building in his broken-down SUV, blasting classic rock music for hours. The vehicle remained in the parking lot Saturday, a brochure on claiming unemployment benefits lying on the passenger seat.

Associated Press writers Antonio Gonzalez and Tamara Lush in Orlando and Sarah Larimer in Miami contributed to this report.

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