Wednesday, October 18, 1978, began like most other days in the Carolina’s. Blue skies, a cool crispness to the wind and the autumn hues tipping the edges of the leaves on the trees scattered across the rolling hills. Just the beginning of another normal October day in the South — or was it? The events destined to unravel over the next eight hours would change the lives of five families forever.
The radio played softly in the background. The aroma of coffee brewing filled the air in the kitchen as the house came to life for another day’s work. The Bible lay open on the kitchen table with the reference book for the daily Bible reading, like most homes in the South, or at least ours. This was the start of a new day in the McDaniel home.
Four other families began their day pretty much the same, except they all had one thing in common with the McDaniel family. They all worked at the same industrial plant in Earl, North Carolina and unknown to any of them, except one, their day would end the same, in a tragedy that would leave lives changed, broken and destroyed forever.
Leaving together for work, my parents had no way of knowing for one of them, it would be their last trip. They traveled the short distance from Blacksburg, South Carolina to Earl, North Carolina where they were employed by a company that manufactured polymer products.
Four other employees arrived at approximately the same time. Each one passed through security with no problem and made their way to their assigned work stations. As the day progressed, each of them performed their particular jobs in their normal routine—stopping for coffee breaks, lunch—just making their day’s pay, like any other day until it all went horribly wrong.
Just after the 3:00 p.m. shift change, suddenly, without warning, loud noises, gun shots, confusion, people running, screaming. In a matter of minutes four people lay wounded, dead and dying.
Two men with life-threatening injuries were transferred to local hospitals. One woman would die later on the operating table from her wounds. My mother, shot twice in the side and back, lay dead on the cold, concrete floor. Five lives, including the shooter, changed forever, in the blink of an eye.
Murder in the workplace–how had this happened? Why had it happened? Who did it? Could it have been avoided? So many questions, most of which never would be answered.
In the chaotic hours following the attack, it was revealed the shooter was a woman. She had worked alongside and was friends with my mother and the three other wounded coworkers for several years. With her murderous plan set in motion, earlier in the day she had secretly hidden a small calibre pistol in her handbag and entered the industrial plant. Passing though Security with her deadly weapon unnoticed—she waited. At the moment of her choosing, she pulled out the pistol and fired, hitting the four targets with the precision of a trained marksman.
Why had she targeted these four people? Why had she killed my mother? These and many other questions consumed me and my family as we tried to deal with the disbelief, heartache, and grief that came with losing our precious mother. I know the other families and employees who suffered injuries and loss of their loved ones on that fateful October day experienced the same horror, questioning, and anger as my family.
Several days later with our minds still clouded with questions and confusion, we laid my mother to rest in our church cemetery, but this was not the end. It seemed to be just the beginning of many months and years of heartache yet to come.
Trying to put our anger and grieving behind us, months later we joined the families of the other victims at the trial of the shooter. Standing beside her attorney, she entered a guilty plea to two counts of second-degree murder in the connection with the shooting deaths of two female coworkers, and pleaded guilty to two counts of felonious assault in the shooting of her two male coworkers.
Sitting through the trial was an excruciating experience. Every horrible memory came rushing back. One by one each juror was questioned, seated, or dismissed as a jury of the shooter’s peers was selected.
Details and evidence was presented as the horrible events of October 18, 1978, began to unfold. The nightmare was being relived right before our eyes. It quickly became evident that the District Attorney was seeking the death penalty. The jurors had been questioned as to whether they could hand down such a sentence due to the fact that the shooter was female. The atmosphere in the Courtroom was electrically charged, yet somber as each juror answered, “Yes.”
Following a short recess for lunch, court reconvened. It was quickly apparent something had changed. As we re-entered the courtroom, the walls and doors were lined with plain clothes officers and there was a feeling of uncertainty in the room. What was happening?
When the judge was seated, it was announced a change of plea had been requested. A new plea of two counts of first degree murder and two counts of assault and battery with a deadly weapon with intent to kill had been requested. With the State’s acceptance of the shooter’s plea to lesser charges, the possibility of the death sentence for her crimes was automatically removed from the table.
The trial suddenly came to an abrupt halt. Later, in a sentencing hearing, the judge handed down a life sentence of 80 years. There was no appeal.
Our family was informed by the District Attorney the change in plea was most likely for the best. I was angry and could not understand how a plea bargain could be offered to a premeditated killer. The DA explained if the trial had continued, there was always the possibility the jury would have returned a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity. The decision would have meant my mother’s murderer would have been released and never served a day for her crimes.
Being forced to accept the outcome, my questions still remained. Why had this happened? What had driven this woman to carry out these horrific acts of violence? The answer to these questions was determined by psychiatrists who diagnosed the shooter with a mental condition known as Dissociative Hysterical Neurosis or Schizophrenia. With their answer and an end to the trial—in a sense—the nightmare was over. Or was it?
I have been and continue to be traumatized by this act of violence that took my mother from me and my family at an early age. She was 52. Because of the trauma of this horrible day, I continue to suffer from seizures which are similar to those of soldiers returning home from war. A condition known as PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. No one can predict how a traumatic event will affect their life for years to come.
Murder is a horrible thing no matter where or when it occurs, but you do not expect it to take place in the workplace, surrounded by security, coworkers and friends you think you can trust.
Could it have been prevented? Could someone have stopped her in time? I don’t have an answer to these questions. Was justice served? To this question, my answer is a resounding “no.” For these heinous crimes, a murderer only served 15 years of an 80-year life sentence. As a convicted killer, she was released back into society with the possibility of creating the same murderous act. Thankfully, she never took another person’s life. Later, God took hers.
What I do know is that a number of lives were changed forever on October 18, 1978, and there are many questions remaining. They never will be answered to my satisfaction.
Murder in the workplace is a fact, not fiction. When this very real, heinous fact enters your home and destroys the lives of your loved ones you relive the nightmare every day—no matter how hard you to try to overcome it.