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Suspect arrested in Orlando shooting, one dead

ORLANDO — From his office on the eighth floor, Mike Maurer heard two bangs and a noise that sounded like construction work.

Nothing unusual.

Then, as the attorney and former police officer stepped into the hallway to head to lunch, he smelled something an old cop never forgets: the smoky residue of gunfire.

The next moments played out in slow motion.

The bangs were gunshots, he realized. The noise was a scream. Something was terribly wrong.

By the time it was over, police say a man had killed one person and wounded five others after opening fire in the offices of the engineering firm that fired him two years ago. The shooting brought downtown Orlando to a standstill for hours and came one day after a military psychiatrist was accused of killing 13 people on a military base in Texas.

"I heard the shots. I heard the scream. You just don't fit it together," said Maurer, 38, who was uninjured. "You just don't think it's going to happen."

Police say Jason Rodriguez, 40, is the man responsible for Friday's chaos.

About 11:45 a.m., Rodriguez walked into the main entrance of Reynolds, Smith & Hills on the eighth floor of the 17-story Gateway Center, and pulled a handgun from a holster beneath his shirt, police say.

Several of his former co-workers recognized him.

Moments later, police say, Rodriguez pointed the gun at an employee standing near the receptionist's desk. The gunman fired at least two shots, killing Otis Beckford, 26.

Then, he kept going.

Rodriguez moved to the office's common area and began firing at random, according to a police account. He injured five people, none of whom have been identified.

Throughout the building, employees barricaded themselves in offices and waited for word from police.

One man, a baseball fan and collector, handed out his prized baseball bats so people could defend themselves.

Hours later, about 2 p.m., police arrested Rodriguez at his mother's home, about 8 miles away. Later Friday night, they charged him with first-degree murder.

As he was led away in handcuffs, reporters asked Rodriguez why he committed the shootings. "They left me to rot," he replied. Asked if he was referring to Reynolds, Smith & Hills, he said: "No. No. I'm angry.''

• • •

Rodriguez used to work on drawings in the firm's transportation group. The architectural engineering firm has 11 offices in Florida, including one in Tampa.

He was fired after less than a year on the job in 2007 because, company officials said, his performance was not up to their standards.

The company did not hear from him again, they said.

"This is really a mystery to us," said Ken Jacobson, the firm's general legal counsel and chief financial officer. "There was nothing to indicate any hard feelings."

Rodriguez told detectives Friday the company had fired him without cause and made him look incompetent. He said he had not gotten an expected unemployment check and blamed the firm for hindering his efforts to get benefits.

Records show Rodriguez's mental state was evaluated the same month he was separated from the company after he attacked a nurse's aide at an Orlando hospital.

And he had other problems, according to records and interviews.

He and his wife divorced in 2006. His former mother-in-law told Fox News he was "crazy."

Last year, he was fired from his job as an engineering inspector for the Orange County Public Works after four months. The county cited "job abandonment" as the reason for the firing.

Records also show Rodriguez had a string of financial troubles. He filed for bankruptcy on May 26, owing $11,000 for child support, $28,912 to Sallie Mae for student loans, $24,520 to a credit union.

He listed his employer as Subway.

• • •

The scene at the office building didn't settle for hours.

Even as the sun went down, police were still escorting returning employees back into the building so they could get their vehicles.

Slowly the parking lot emptied and all the cars were gone.

The memories weren't.

William Blake, 28, is an engineer who works on the 11th floor. He said the building is patrolled by guards and has several cameras inside and out.

He said a security guard told him that just before the shooting, they saw an intruder enter the garage on the security monitors. The man walked up to the garage entrance, moved a barrier arm and walked inside, Blake said.

Guards went to the garage to find the intruder but apparently he was already gone.

McCain Chance, who works with Blake, had just gotten back from lunch when he came upon a graphic scene in the stairwell: Someone had been shot in the back. The injured person was lying on the floor, vomiting blood and being tended to by someone else.

Chance ran up to the 11th floor to warn his fellow employees at R.W. Beck Inc. Minutes later, police officers escorted them out of the building.

On the top floor, lawyer Heidi Isenhart was notified of the shooting through an e-mail alert. She stood up and looked out the window. Police cars surrounded the building.

Later, her husband picked up her and two of her co-workers in their van and she hugged her 3-year-old son hard. For the first time in five years, she didn't bring her briefcase home.

"It just reminds you what's important. All those things I went to work worrying about, they didn't matter at all," the 38-year-old said.

"I'm so blessed. I got to walk out of there. I keep thinking about those people who didn't, and about their families. And I'm just . . . just so . . . I don't even know how to process this all yet."

Times staff writers Kim Wilmath and Andy Boyle contributed to this report, which includes information from the Associated Press and Orlando Sentinel.

Suspect arrested in Orlando shooting, one dead 11/06/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 1, 2011 4:07pm]
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