Internal Lockheed Martin documents obtained by ABC News show that what the company has called a case of tragic workplace violence was far more complicated and was what some are calling the worst hate crime against African-Americans since the civil rights movement.
An investigation by ABC News' "Primetime" found that Doug Williams, an employee at a Lockheed aircraft plant in Meridian, Miss., taunted and made death threats against black co-workers as early as a year and half before he went on a shooting spree in July 2003 that left six dead and eight wounded. After killing his last victim, Williams shot and killed himself on the plant floor.
Many employees have said that those threats continued until the day of the killings. "Zero tolerance means zero response to intolerance," said Mary Frances Berry, the former chairwoman of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. "The company, in my view, failed in its responsibility."
Lockheed Martin, the largest defense contractor in the country, maintains the shootings were the "senseless acts of a single man," and not the result of unlawful racial harassment at the plant.
But the lawyer for the family of one of Williams' victims, who are now suing Lockheed for racial discrimination, said the case was clear-cut.
"I can't imagine a hate crime that had more forewarning than this one," lawyer Bill Blair said.
The Warning Signs
A longtime Lockheed employee, Williams fumed when blacks at the plant complained about his racial slurs or received better-paying jobs, according to several co-workers. He once wore the bootie of a white protective suit on his head in the shape of what black workers said looked like a Ku Klux Klan hood. Given the choice by management to remove it or go home, Williams left. Lockheed took no disciplinary action against him for the incident, according to Lockheed documents.
Many who knew Williams had feared, even predicted, violence would eventually erupt.
"He said, 'You know, one of these days, I'm goin' to come in here and kill me a bunch of niggers and then I'm goin' to kill myself,'" according to Aaron Hopson, a black employee at the plant who says Williams threatened to kill him in 2001.
That threat was reported to the plant managers and a company equal employment officer was sent to Meridian to investigate the matter in December 2001. Lockheed company documents obtained by ABC News show that Darold Sawyer, based at Lockheed's offices in Marietta, Ga., interviewed several workers in Meridian and took extensive notes detailing Williams' threats to kill black workers.
According to Sawyer's notes, one black worker, Thomas Willis, told Lockheed management he expected "the policy on harassment to be enforced," a reference to Lockheed's stated "zero tolerance" policy on racial harassment. Sawyer finally recommended Williams keep his job and attend anger management counseling.
Sawyer's notes also show that Lockheed veteran Lynette McCall reported to management that Williams told her he saw "a race war coming," and that she "was on his list too." McCall told Sawyer that she took Williams' death threats seriously. On the day of the killings, Williams stalked his way to McCall's work station where witnesses say he taunted her before shooting her at point-blank range.
"Lockheed is responsible for maintaining a workplace where people aren't threatened with death and called 'nigger,' " said Blair. "It's beyond any kind of description why they allowed this to take place. They could have stopped it."
Business 'Ethics' Class
On the morning of the shootings, Williams was scheduled to attend a mandatory ethics and diversity class with a black employee whom he believed had complained about him to management. According to sworn testimony by white employees at the plant, Williams arrived at work that morning highly agitated and even repeated his threats to kill black workers.
Once in the ethics class, Williams lasted only a few minutes before storming out, confronting his supervisor, Jeff McWilliams, in the process. In a statement given to the police, McWilliams said Williams threatened to take the matter into his own hands when he left the plant building.
And Williams only had to go as far as his truck in the Lockheed parking lot, where he had several guns loaded and ready, according to the county sheriff's investigation. Shooting survivor Al Collier was sitting in the ethics classroom when Williams returned, heavily armed.
"He had a shotgun in his hands, rifle on his back, bullets draped down, both sides of him," Collier recalled. Williams' race war had begun.
In an act of courage that cost his life, Mickey Fitzgerald, a white employee in the classroom, stood up to try to calm Williams and was shot and killed. Then, Williams turned toward a group of black employees cowering on the floor, according to Collier. "He said, 'There's four right there,' you know, like he was shooting some kind of animal," he said.
The four black workers included veteran Sam Cockrell, who Williams believed had made complaints to management.
After killing Cockrell, Williams aimed his shotgun at three other black workers in that classroom, including Delois Bailey, Al Collier and Charles Scott. "I was lying on the floor. He came over and shot me while I was on the floor," said Scott.
Williams finally left the classroom, but was far from through. He skipped the management offices and headed for the production floor, making his way to other black employees whose reports to management about Williams' racist threats had become well known in the plant. He found McCall, Willis and C.J. Miller at their work stations. Williams shot and killed each of them, before commiting suicide on the plant floor.
Lockheed has approximately $25 billion in government contracts that could be jeopardized if the company was found to have tolerated racial discrimination, according to Berry.
"If the federal government wanted to, the federal government could review their contracts," said Berry. "And there is a provision under which contracts could be debarred."
The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission labeled the shootings the culmination of a hostile racial environment caused by Williams but allowed to continue to grow by Lockheed.
Lockheed Martin turned down ABC News' request for a sit-down interview. But ABC News caught up with Lockheed chief executive officer Robert Stevens at the company's annual shareholders' meeting in Albuquerque, N.M. Stevens called the shootings an unspeakable tragedy but said they were unconnected to racial discrimination at the plant.
"Lockheed Martin has a zero-tolerance policy. Actions like that [Williams' alleged slurs and threats] are not permitted in Lockheed Martin," Stevens said.
Berry said: "If it's not race, then all you have is a workmen's compensation claim. Maybe an insurance claim here or there. … So both for economic reasons, for public relations reasons, the company would be unwilling to have someone say it was racial if they could avoid doing so."
Fighting a Troubled Past
Lauderdale County Sheriff Billy Sollie dismissed claims that the shootings were racially motivated, citing the fact that Williams spared one black woman in the classroom where the murders began.
As for the Lockheed company documents detailing Williams' racial views and slurs and death threats, the sheriff at first denied knowing anything about them. But when pressed, the sheriff remembered seeing the documents, but said he could not recall what was in them.
"I believe that anyone associated with Lauderdale County would want it to be nonracial, because of Lauderdale County's terrible racial past," said Blair, the lawyer for Willis' family. "I don't believe that's how you solve racism, by ignoring it and calling it something other than it is."
In the eyes of Lynette McCall's widowed husband, Williams' actions not only spoke of racism, but of cruelty.
"I was told that he called, 'Didn't I tell you I was going to kill you, bitch?' and things like that, and I was told that she was begging him not to do it," McCall's husband, Bobby, said. "But he wanted her to suffer before he did it. And that's something very difficult for me to live with. Very difficult."
For more information about hate group activity, readers may wish to contact:
Southern Poverty Law Center
400 Washington Avenue
Montgomery, AL 36104
Telephone: (334) 956-8200
For more information about the families' lawsuits, readers may wish to contact:
Thomas, Means, Gillis, Seay, P.C.
400 Financial Center
505 20th Street, North
P.O. Box 11365
Birmingham, AL 35202-1365
Telephone: (205) 328-7915
Fax: (205) 214-6160
Represents the families of Lynette McCall and Sam Cockrell, as well as Charles Scott, Al Collier, and Aaron Hopson.
Blair and Bondurant
Attorneys at Law
1368 Old Fannin Road
Brandon, MS 39047
Telephone: (601) 992-4477
Represents the family of Thomas Willis.
Maddy Sauer, Simon Surowicz and Jessica Wang contributed to this report.