Navistar International Corp. Factory Attack

Dec. 22, 2020
Fired six years earlier; convicted of theft from the company; divorced, and reporting for a federal prison term the very next day: it should have been no surprise when this perpetrator showed up to attack his former place of employment.

It really shouldn’t come as any surprise when a man with a criminal history who has been not only terminated from his job but then criminally prosecuted for conspiracy to steal from his employer, returns to the place of employment and attacks it. To be fair, in the case of the location center in this article, there was a security system in place and if a security officer is taken by surprise (at gun point), there’s not much that can be done. Proper precautions were in place, but in this case, the “bad guy” beat the protections and ended up gaining access to his hunting grounds.

Mid-morning, Monday, February 5, 2001, 66-year old William Baker drove to the Navistar International Corporation Factory (“Navistar”) in Melrose Park, Illinois, about fifteen miles west of Chicago. With him he had a golf bag which he carried up to the guard shack. At the guard shack, he was recognized by the security officer on duty and refused entry. Allegedly he told the officer that he was trying to return the golf set to a friend inside the building, but the security officer wasn’t buying it.

So, Baker went to plan B: He pulled a .38 Special revolver from the golf bag, pushed it into the security officer’s side and essentially took him hostage. Holding the security officer at gunpoint, Baker led him to the building entrance and there he used the security officer’s credentials to gain entry. The building was equipped with electronic access pads that scanned a barcode on an authorized employee’s identification card.

Inside the building, Baker let go of the guard, reportedly pushing him away, and then reached into the golf bag to put the revolver back and draw out a semi-automatic AK-47 variant. With that rifle, he began to stalk the factory floor / production area, shooting employees. On the factory floor, he wounded four and killed three before he went into a side office, shooting and killing the employee therein. Then he put the AK-47 on a desk, pulled the revolver back out of the bag and shot himself in the head. He was dead when police officers arrived.

It was reported that Baker fired between 25 and 30 shots in a span of eight to twelve minutes. As Active Shooter events go, that’s not a high number of rounds fired and the time-per-shot is relatively low. With some active shooters demonstrating a 7-seconds-per-casualty rate, Baker’s was roughly 1-minute-per-casualty and an average of about 3 to 4 shots per minute fired.

All of his victims were male and all of them, with the exception of one man somehow shot in the foot, were shot in their torso or arms. Baker wasn’t an excellent shot by any means, but he seemed to focus his shots between his victims’ hips and shoulders, striking the majority of them in the torso. One man was hit in the arm, and another (as mentioned) in the foot. Without access to the crime scene diagrams and coroner’s reports, it’s difficult to determine how that happened. In a large room full of manufacturing equipment, it may have been a ricochet or a missed shot that traveled some distance before hitting the victim’s foot.

William D. Baker was 66 years old at the time of the attack; divorced and convicted of conspiracy to commit theft for the purpose of selling stolen merchandise in a different state. Because the crime involved inter-state commerce, the FBI was the agency that had investigated the crime some six years earlier (approximately). On February 6th, 2001, Baker was to turn himself in for transport to an undisclosed federal prison to serve five months for the crime, followed by five months of house arrest. He had worked at the Navistar plant for 39 years before being fired in 1994 after the theft and conspiracy had been discovered. Baker’s background also included a criminal conviction for a sex offense (sex with a minor) in 1997 and an assault charge in 1958.

Investigation after the event revealed that many of Baker’s neighbors felt he was a bully while a few stated he was “a nice man.” Many of his coworkers, those that remembered him from six years prior, seemed to feel that he was intimidating, mostly due to his stature: over six feet tall and nearly 300 pounds, he was not a small man.

After the shooting, the FBI and ATF were able to trace two of the weapons used and found that they had been purchased legally in the years between his employment termination in 1994 and his attack in 2001. Baker should not have been able to buy a weapon legally after he registered as a sex offender in 1997.

It’s worth noting that several employees who had been in the building at the time of the attack but who had managed to flee either during it or immediately after, waited long enough to grab their coat and cell phone. Certainly, in February in Chicago, it can be brutally cold outside and a coat would be mandatory. A cell phone is as much a part of our everyday now as eyeglasses and wallets are. That said, if the choice has to be made between being cold outside (for whatever temporary period of time) or dying inside because you were too slow in escaping as you dawdled to get your coat and cell phone, it’s obvious that there should be no hesitation in escape. Just go. Get out. If you can’t get out safely, hide – and know the difference between cover and concealment. Hiding behind concealment is good; but hiding behind cover is better.

About the Author

Joshua Borelli

Joshua Borelli has been studying active shooter and mass attack events over the course of the past several years, commensurate with receiving training on response and recovery to natural disasters and civil disturbances. Joshua started to outline this series of articles in an attempt to identify commonalities and logistical needs patterns for response.

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