Perkins of Ideal Engineering had been shot by an employee he had discharged moments before.

I was holding my right arm up in the air as I was running,” Wesley Perkins recalls. His shirt was splashed with blood and more was on the floor. “I knew I’d been shot.”

Perkins, vice president of The Ideal Service Co., a division of Houston, Texas, mechanical contractor Ideal Engineering Inc., had just been shot by an employee he had discharged moments before.

Perkins had been anxious about confronting Fred Warner. “The man has a short fuse when he’s upset. I’d thought about hiring a security guard because I knew Fred’s explosive nature, but I thought the worst thing he could do was hit me.”

Perkins had good reason to be on his toes. Fred was known to carry firearms in his truck — legal in Texas with a permit. In fact, just three weeks before the shooting, Perkins pulled into the lot one morning and saw Warner standing at the back of his truck, showing off a hunting rifle to another employee. In addition, Warner frequented gun shows, often buying guns and knives. “When he buys something, he wants to show it off,” Perkins says.

Perkins also knew a security guard wouldn’t be there tomorrow or next week. “If someone is really vindictive,” he adds, “he can walk through that door anytime.” Instead, Perkins bought a tape recorder, loaded a cassette tape, and that morning put it in his shirt pocket. The tape, running in his pocket but concealed by the flap, recorded the entire event, including the gunshots.

Later, the district attorney said it was one of the best pieces of evidence he could have had.

Sequence of Events

According to Perkins, Warner had not been doing well on the job. “I’d laid out things he needed to do: make a prospect list, do cold calling, make calls and appointments, generate a larger customer base, produce some quotes.”

But in the two weeks that followed, Warner hadn’t even created a list of customers to call on.

On the day of the firing, Perkins pulled into the parking lot at about 7:15 a.m. and saw Warner walking out of the office with a handful of customer files.

Seeing Perkins, Warner turned and went back inside. “That made me suspicious,” Perkins says. “When I looked in his truck, I saw files on the floorboard.”

Back in Warner’s office, Perkins asked about the files. Here’s what the hidden tape recorded:

Warner: “I decided to work more out of the house, and I was taking some files home.”

Perkins: “We don’t really need to discuss it, Fred. I’ve decided to let you go. We can talk about it as much as you want, but we did that two weeks ago. Afterward we shook hands, and you acknowledged what I told you. I was honest and straightforward with you. Since then you’ve done nothing. Your goals and the company’s goals don’t seem compatible. I’ve had your final check cut. I need your gas card, office keys and radio. And I’d like you to show me that the folders on the floorboard of your truck do not belong to the company.”

Warner argued those were his customers, and that anything pertaining to his customers belonged to him “I knew he was looking for another job,” Perkins says. “He’d removed pictures and personal items from his office so there wasn’t much for him to pack.” Hoping to keep the pressure from building, Perkins stepped out for coffee.

When he returned, Warner was putting proposals and quotes into the box. “Fred, this is proprietary information,” Perkins said, pulling them out of the box.

At that point, Warner walked out of the office, and headed outside to his truck. Perkins followed him out, knowing the company folders were still in the vehicle. Perkins stopped just outside the building and kept an eye on Warner as he leaned down as if to pick up the folders.

“When he turned around, I saw the gun and looked at his face,” Perkins says. “He was drawing the gun up toward me. I turned to run.”

The first shot hit his right arm. Perkins ran back into the building yelling, “He’s got a gun.” Meanwhile, Warner followed him firing more shots, including two shots that went through the wall of Perkins’ office. Perkins finally escaped out the back door and ducked behind some trucks.

By that time, others were trying to persuade Warner to give up his gun. But he worked himself around to the front, got into his truck and drove away.

“Meanwhile, with all the running, my right arm seemed to be falling apart just above the elbow,” Perkins recalls. “I was holding it up in the air with my left hand and beginning to feel faint.”

Someone took off his own shirt and used it for a tourniquet, but blood was still pumping out of that arm. Finally, Larry Conti, a service salesman and Vietnam veteran, clasped both hands around Perkins’ arm, squeezed down and shut off the blood.

Perkins needed 14–1/2 hours of surgery to repair his wounded arm. Vascular surgeons removed an artery from Perkins’ leg and used it to repair the damaged artery to keep the circulation going. Orthopedic surgeons rebuilt the bone, using artificial bone material as well as steel and screws. Finally, plastic surgeons removed skin from Perkins’ leg and overlaid it on the wound where there was no skin. In all, Perkins spent six days in the hospital and almost three more works recuperating at home.

Warner eventually turned himself into police. Perkins was not in the courtroom during Warner’s trial, except to testify. The prosecutor consulted him about an appropriate sentence. They arrived at 35 years.

Looking Back

Now that he’s back at work, it isn’t easy for Perkins to put the situation behind him. He continues to mull over the details.

“The smartest thing was using the tape recorder,” he says.

He recommends to anyone who foresees a sticky situation: Record it. If the tape runs continuously, authorities know it has not been edited.

Perkins also understands that when trouble is brewing in the workplace, lots of people know. Two days before the shooting, another salesperson overheard Warner using obscene language regarding how he was “going to get that guy down the hall.” Warner also made threatening remarks to other people.

No one revealed those threats until after the shooting.

On that same day, Warner had spent an hour with company president Stan Kaplan, trying to undermine Perkins’ position in the organization. Kaplan mentioned that conversation to Perkins, but didn’t reveal its threatening content.

Perkins says he realizes people didn’t take Warner seriously, or didn’t know what to do with the information. “If you haven’t been around a violent incident, you don’t expect that kind of thing to happen.”

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the Oct. 26, 1998 edition of The Air Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration News.