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60-year-old opens fire on fast-food line

Lt. Rafael Vazquez was killed while waiting for a toy.

Lt. Rafael Vazquez was killed while waiting for a toy.

WEST PALM BEACH — A man dressed in a sports jacket and tie sprayed a Wendy's with bullets Monday, killing a firefighter who had returned to collect a missing promotional toy for his child, authorities said.

The assailant — identified by authorities as Alburn Blake, 60, of West Palm Beach — wounded at least four other people before committing suicide.

Three people were hospitalized in critical condition, according to authorities.

The rampage came without apparent provocation and without a known motive, authorities said. The gunman said nothing and had a blank look on his face, but his hands were shaking, according to witnesses.

Little was known about Blake, though authorities believe he was unemployed, separated from his wife and lived alone. They said they inspected his "neat and clean" home in an apartment complex and found no suicide note.

"I'm in shock," said one neighbor, Betsy White. "He looked like he was just a normal senior citizen."

About 20 people were inside the restaurant on a major suburban road about 5 miles from downtown West Palm Beach when the violence erupted.

The dead customer was Rafael Vazquez, 42, a lieutenant with the Palm Beach County Fire Rescue Department, according to Capt. Don Delucia, a spokesman for the department.

He said Vazquez, dressed in civilian clothes, was in the area for mandatory training and met his wife and 4-year-old child at the Wendy's for lunch. He carried their food to a car but noticed that a promotional toy was missing.

So he went back inside.

According to authorities, this is what happened:

Blake walked into the restaurant about 12:15 p.m., headed for the men's room and soon emerged holding the gun.

He walked toward the railing that channels customers to the counter and shot the fire rescue officer at point-blank range in the back. Vazquez, apparently never aware of the threat, died at the scene.

Then, Blake opened fire on other customers standing in or near the line. It is believed that he fired off an entire magazine.

Customers scattered and ran for their lives, including some who left their cars idling.

"My sister tried to run away, but he shot her anyway," Kachi Soto said of her 16-year-old sister, Vanessa, who was hospitalized.

Ashley Milton, 28, of Riviera Beach said she was walking in the door when she saw the man holding the gun. She took off running. She said she heard people screaming and crying for help as the man pointed the gun at them.

A second Palm Beach County firefighter in the restaurant counted the number of rounds fired. When he reached 10 and heard silence as Blake reloaded, he rushed an injured elderly couple out the door.

Brothers Josh and Jerry Maynard had just sat down in the Wendy's when they heard what they first thought were balloons popping. "As soon as we heard the shots, we turned some of the tables over and stayed on the ground," Josh Maynard, 30, said. "All I was thinking was, 'When am I going to get shot?' "

The two brothers were about 10 feet away from the gunman and a scene they described as completely chaotic. Josh Maynard has a hole in his sneaker from a bullet that grazed his shoe. The two brothers were able to escape while Blake was reloading.

Paul Miller, a spokesman for the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office, said that, after reloading, Blake shot himself in the head.

Ten employees were in the restaurant, but none were injured, according to Craig Schultz of Wendy's. Surveillance cameras may have captured the bloodbath. Wendy's has given tapes to the Sheriff's Office, he said.

.at a glance

Week of rampages

• Four adults and two children were found shot to death Monday at a home in Memphis, Tenn. Three other children were hospitalized in critical condition with gunshot wounds.

• A teenager and her boyfriend in Emory, Texas, shot and killed her mother and her two brothers, and left her father severely wounded in a predawn attack on Saturday.

• A man shot his parents, then killed himself at the family's home in Gambier, Ohio, near the Kenyon College campus on Sunday morning.

• A 17-year-old boy is accused of gunning down his mother, who worked as a Gwinnett County sheriff's deputy in Georgia, and her two daughters at their home on Thursday.

Source: Times wires

60-year-old opens fire on fast-food line 03/03/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 28, 2010 9:25am]
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