2 supervisors shot, killed by longtime employee of Athens factory

Courtesy of WATE
Courtesy of WATE

ATHENS, TN (WATE/AP)  – A  man identified by law enforcement as having shot two colleagues at an eastern Tennessee factory had a state-issued permit to carry handguns in public, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

TBI says James A. Zotter, 44, and Sandra H. Cooley, 68, both of Athens, were shot to death shortly before 4 p.m. at the Thomas and Betts plant located at 260 Dennis Street in Athens. The shooter has been identified as Ricky Swafford, 45, also of Athens.

According to state investigators, Swafford had an up-to-date carry permit and no previous criminal record.

The preliminary investigation reveals Swafford, a 15-year employee of the plant, became upset at a meeting with Zotter and Cooley, two of his supervisors. Swafford abruptly left the meeting and building, only to return a short time later. He then went to the office where Zotter and Cooley both were and shot them.

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. The investigation is ongoing. Forensic scientists with TBI’s Violent Crimes Response Team arrived at the plant around 11 p.m.

Zotter and Cooley’s remains will be taken to Knoxville for autopsies.

Nearby McMinn County High School was briefly put on lockdown as a precaution. Police have not yet released information on the victims.

“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.”

Under a state law enacted in 2013, workers with carry permits are allowed to store firearms in vehicles parked at work regardless of their employers’ wishes.

Manager Pat Joyce said the company has an employee policy concerning firearms, but he declined to elaborate.

Thomas & Betts’ headquarters is in suburban Memphis. It designs and makes electrical components for industrial, commercial, lighting and utility markets.

The Associated Press contributed to this story. 

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