Authorities say a grudge drove 60-year old NASA employee William Arthur Phillips Jr. to kill a co-worker, take a second hostage, and finally commit suicide at Houston's Johnson Space Center Friday.
Before shooting 62-year-old civil servant David Beverly in the leg and chest, Phillips reportedly said, "You're the one that's going to get me fired," authorities said at a press conference Saturday.
Phillips, who lived alone and had no family, was a contact worker for NASA employed by Jacobs Engineering of Pasadena, Calif. On March 16, he received an e-mail from his supervisor regarding his allegedly sub-par work performance. Two days later, he purchased a revolver and 20 rounds of ammunition.
On Friday, Phillips reportedly had lunch with Beverly and another co-worker, who reported nothing abnormal about Phillips' demeanor, though he was described by other co-workers as "odd," according to authorities.
At 1:30 p.m., Phillips entered Beverly's office, where Beverly was talking with Fran Crenshaw, a contract worker with MRI Technologies. According to Crenshaw, Phillips spoke in a calm, soothing manner, offering a number of options for his job improvement before shooting Beverley and taking Crenshaw hostage, Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt said.
Before 2 p.m., Johnson Space Center security arrived on the scene. Employees throughout the 1,600-acre facility were told to lock doors and stay in place.
For three hours, negotiators tried to establish communication with Phillips, who barricaded himself in a second-floor room with Beverley and Crenshaw, by calling the room's telephone. Though Phillips picked up, authorities said he refused to make any statement.
According to Crenshaw, Phillips watched the stand-off unfold on TV and duct-taped her mouth so that she wouldn't scream once he shot himself, authorities said.
"He didn't want her to scream and then have police rush in and save his life," police Lt. Larry Baimbridge said. "He went in there with the intent to kill himself as well as Mr. Beverly."
Shortly before 4:30 p.m., authorities heard a gunshot come from the room where Phillips was holding Beverly and Crenshaw hostage. They found Phillips and Beverly dead and Crenshaw bound but unharmed.
"Believing that the suspect may have shot himself, the decision was made to make entry," said Dwayne Ready of the Houston Police Department. "As our SWAT team members made entry they did indeed determine that the suspect shot himself one time to the head."
The Johnson Space Center recently reviewed security, but it is not an airtight operation.
"We have to have badges to get on site here. Guns are not permitted on site. And we have random checks of automobiles," said Johnson Space Center director Michael Coats. "Right now, we're trying to understand why this happened, how this happened."
For NASA, this is the latest incident to put the organization in the headlines for something other than space exploration. About two months ago, an attempted kidnapping and a love-triangle between two astronauts and an Air Force pilot made NASA the object of public scrutiny.
On Saturday, NASA administrator Mike Griffin pledged to review security again and consider installing metal detectors in NASA facilities. But he stressed that it's hard to stop an employee dead-set on seeking vengeance.
"When an employee … has decided that he wishes to avenge a grudge or not and is willing to die in the process, it is virtually impossible to stop that person," Griffin said. "He was determined that he was going to die."