East Tennessee community in shock after employee kills two supervisors

Athens plant manager heartbroken by ‘senseless act of violence’

ATHENS, TN (WATE) – Pushing back tears, Pat Joyce, the area operations manager at Thomas & Betts’ Athens plant thanked the community for their understanding and prayers.

Joyce, who has worked with the company for 23 years, said the plant will remain closed after a gunman and employee at the plant shot two of his supervisors. He said employees will be paid during this time of grief.

“I’m heartbroken today. We as a company are heartbroken. Yesterday, we lost colleagues in a senseless act of violence. We have absolutely no understanding of what motivated the perpetrator, but you have our promise that we are cooperating with law enforcement in every possible way,” said Joyce during a news conference Friday.

TBI says a preliminary investigation indicates that Ricky Swafford, a long-time employee of the plant, 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.

Related: 2 supervisors shot, killed by longtime employee of Athens factory

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.

“We employee hard-working, talented incredible, gifted people. We mourn as a community and as a community of co-workers and most importantly our thoughts and prayers with the victims, with the families, loved ones and friends of those we lost,” said Joyce. “We want to offer our thanks, heartfelt thanks, to the police, the first responders and our employees for their incredible, incredible response in these hours.”

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