UPDATE: Thomas & Betts facility in Athens set to reopen on Monda - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

UPDATE: Thomas & Betts facility in Athens set to reopen on Monday

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People stood and prayed Friday morning at the McMinn Co. Courthouse. WRCBtv.com photo People stood and prayed Friday morning at the McMinn Co. Courthouse. WRCBtv.com photo
ATHENS, TN (WRCB) -

UPDATE: The Thomas & Betts facility in Athens reopened on Monday. The facility was temporarily closed as loved ones mourned the loss of two employees, after they were shot and killed by a former co-worker.    

A statement released by Thomas & Betts reads: 

We are profoundly saddened by the loss of lives in the September 22 shooting at our Thomas and Betts facility in Athens, Tennessee. The authorities are conducting an investigation, and, at this point, we are deferring questions to them. We are cooperating closely with the authorities.

Our prayers and thoughts are with the victims’ families and our employees during this difficult time. We are providing all the support we can, including making grief counselors available to all of the facility’s employees.

It's been a difficult week for the employees at Thomas & Betts after the loss of three workers. Now they're trying to learn how to live with a new normal as they return to work.

Crime tape still lines the front entry at the factory more than a week after a deadly shooting.

The TBI said Ricky Swofford shot and killed two of his supervisors after an argument at work before turning the gun on himself.

68-year-old Sandra Cooley and 44-year-old James Zotter were the two employees killed; both had been with the company for nearly 20 years. It's why only 11 days after the shooting employees are still grieving.

"Trying to get back to some kind of normalcy is probably the biggest step we've taken," Pat Joyce, a company spokesperson said.

Following the attack the company shut down and gave staff paid time off to grieve.

Monday employees returned to work, they say taking each day one at a time.

"Day one is going to be one step in front of the other," Joyce said.

The Athens plant employs nearly 350 people. Grief counselors were on-hand Monday.

Thomas & Betts say they will continue to pay for time off for those who need additional time.

In light of the recent attack, a spokesperson tells Channel 3 they will continue to update emergency response plans and provide training for their employees.

Many employees say it will still take time for them to heal, and for some returning to the place where it all happened can do just that.


PREVIOUS STORY:  Dozens of people offered prayers Friday at midday outside the McMinn County courthouse, mourning the two Thomas & Betts workers killed by a fellow worker Thursday.

The street temporarily closed outside the courthouse to allow attendees to safely talk, mingle and pray, sharing stories with one another.

READ MORE | Family remembers loved one killed in Athens shooting

The names of the victims were read aloud during the vigil, and prayers were spoken as the community tries to understand the horrific act.

The Thomas & Betts Corporation is closed but the employees will still get paid as they all take the time to grieve and come together during the difficult time.

"It's just so hard. It's unbelievable, I can't believe it," said employee Donna Crabtree.

"At this point they are family, they're  not just coworkers,they're all family," said employee Tina Walden.

The family at Thomas & Betts are hurting. Three employees died in a workplace shooting.  

The TBI said Ricky Swafford shot and killed his supervisors after an argument at work.

"I was just completely lost, completely unexpected," Walden said, "Completely unexpected from the man who done this, it was just completely out of character."

Swafford's coworkers said he was acting normal before the shooting, talking to other employees outside in the parking lot before his meeting with supervisors.

They can't understand what would cause Swafford to kill two others before taking his own life.

One of his victims, 68-year-old Sandra Cooley. Employees remember her a tough, efficient and fair to others.

"Sandra Cooley was my boss and she tried her best to do everything she could to get what we needed," Crabtree said.

Another victim, 44-year-old James Zotter. His family said he was just recently promoted to his supervisor position.

"James, which we call him Jim, he was just a good guy, I can't really say nothing bad about him either," Walden said.

When employees first heard the gunfire coming from inside the building, they did what they could  to escape and find safety.

Now, they're doing what they can to help their family's heartbreak.

"I can not imagine what they're going through," Crabtree said, "Just pray for all the families."

Employees said their bosses at Thomas & Betts told them the manufacturing plant will stay closed until the last day of the last funeral.


PREVIOUS STORY: Tennessee Bureau of Investigations Special Agents joined investigators with the Athens Police Department and the McMinn County Sheriff's Office in investigating the workplace shooting at Thomas & Betts manufacturing plant in Athens that left two victims and the shooter dead.

The TBI said that 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.

Thomas & Betts Operations Manager Pat Joyce tearfully said "I'm heartbroken, the whole company is heartbroken. The facility will remain closed until such time we decide to reopen. Every employee will be paid during this time of grief."

The suspect, identified as 45-year-old Ricky Swafford, had a Tennessee concealed carry permit according to the TBI.

The investigation is still under way. The TBI explained that they will be interviewing employees today and will continue processing evidence.

Prayer vigils have been scheduled for Friday at McMinn County High School and on the steps of the Athens Courthouse at noon.


PREVIOUS STORY: The TBI has released the names of those killed at Thomas & Betts Factory in Athens.

A spokesperson says the victims, James A. Zotter, 44, and Sandra H. Cooley, 68, both of Athens, Tennessee, were fatally shot shortly after 4:00pm Thursday at their workplace on Dennis Street.

The shooter has been identified at 45-year-old Ricky Swafford, also of Athens. The TBI says that Swafford had a concealed carry permit.

"I don't think you ever want to think this will occur in your community," McMinn County Sheriff Joe Guy said.  

The preliminary investigation indicates that the Swafford, a long-time employee of Thomas & Betts, became upset at a meeting with his two supervisors, Zotter and Cooley.

The spokesperson says Swafford abruptly left the meeting and the building, and returned a short time later with a semi-automatic pistol. He went to the office in the front of the building where the supervisors were, and shot both of them.

When responding officers arrived, they found Swafford’s body in a bathroom of the plant, dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Workers at the plant, upon hearing the shots, were able to shelter in place.

The facility does not have its own security force.

The plant will be closed for a period of time, and employees will be paid during that time, according to the plant manager.

No other employees were injured in the shooting incident. Thomas & Betts is a manufacturer of electrical, HVAC and lighting products.

The investigation remains active and ongoing, by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the Athens Police Department, along with the assistance of the McMinn County Sheriff, and investigators with the 10th Judicial District.

The TBI’s Violent Crimes Response Team with Special Agent forensic scientists from Nashville arrived at the scene to collect evidence and will be processing the scene throughout the night.

The bodies of the two victims, as well as the shooter, will be taken to Knoxville for autopsies.

A spokesperson for ABB, the company that owns Thomas & Betts, released the following statement regarding the shootings:

“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.”

A news conference is scheduled for Friday morning at 8:30am at the Athens Municipal Building.

Stay with WRCBtv.com for updates to this story.



PREVIOUS STORY:  Two people were shot and killed at an Athens plant by a fellow employee Thursday afternoon.

It happened at Thomas and Betts on Dennis Street shortly after 4:00pm.

Officials say the gunman killed two people before taking his own life. The gunman's body was found in a bathroom.

The motive for the shooting is unclear and the gunman's identity is not yet known.

No one else was injured in the shooting.

Athens City Police and the TBI are leading the investigation.

Officials are planning to hold another press conference tomorrow morning.

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