2 supervisors shot, killed by longtime employee of Athens factory

Gunman found dead of apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound

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ATHENS (WATE) – The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has identified the two people killed and the suspect after a shooting at an Athens factory Thursday afternoon.

TBI says a preliminary investigation indicates that Ricky Swafford, a long-time employee of Thomas and Betts, became upset during a meeting with his two supervisors. Swafford, 45, abruptly left the meeting, and the building. He returned shortly afterward and went to the office and found his supervisors, James Zotter, 44, and Sandra Cooley, 68. Swafford shot both of them and continued to walk through the plant.

Some employees were able to warn others of an active shooter, and employees evacuated the building. When responding officers arrived, they found Swafford’s body in a bathroom of the plant, deceased from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. No other employees were injured in the shooting incident. When officers arrived, they found Zotter and Cooley’s bodies. Swafford was found in a bathroom of a plant, dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.

No other employees were hurt. Nearby McMinn County High School was briefly put on lock-down as a precaution.

Forensic scientists with TBI’s Violent Crimes Response Team arrived at the plant around 11 p.m. to collect evidence and begin processing the scene. Zotter and Cooley’s remains were taken to Knoxville for autopsies.

“I don’t think you ever want to think this will occur in your community, but unfortunately this is what you train to whether you want to or not,” said Sheriff Joe Guy.

Thomas and Betts manufactures connectors and components for the electrical and communications industries. The company issued a statement Thursday night:

“Our loss is profound. The ABB family is shocked and saddened by the tragedy at our Thomas & Betts facility in Athens, Tennessee on Thursday afternoon. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims’ families during this difficult time. We will have grief counselors available to all of our employees at the facility. ABB is working closely with authorities to cooperate and assist in their investigation.”

Carol Jamerson’s son was just feet away from the shooter.

“We just told him to get out of the building as safe as he could and just get him as far away as he could,” she said.

He got out safely and went to the company next door, letting Carol and Hunter Jameson he was okay, but they didn’t hear from him again for hours.

“Terrified. Not knowing what was going on.”

John Plemons’s exchange student goes to nearby McMinn County High School.

“I basically flew down here as quickly as I could because she could hardly speak. She was that shaken up,” he said.

Carol Jamerson’s son went to the school for questioning and finished late Thursday evening. The family is relieved he wasn’t hurt.

“Just thankful that he was okay. Worried for other families,” she said. “It’s just not something that happens here. People go to work to support their families and then this isn’t what you expect to happen.”

This is a breaking news story. Refresh this page for updates. Download the WATE 6 On Your Side news app for breaking news alerts.

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