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John Gillis, 66, of Hastings, worked at Insty-Bit, a business that leased space inside Accents Signage Systems, Inc. in Minneapolis, MN. Gillis retired on Thursday, but not before the shooting that left 6 people dead in the business next to his. He was interviewed by meida members outside the building Saturday, September 29, 2012.

David Joles, Dml - Star Tribune

Shooting scene: 'It looked like Iraq out here'

  • Article by: ABBY SIMONS AND NICOLE NORFLEET
  • Star Tribune
  • October 1, 2012 - 1:14 PM

Thursday marked John Gillis' last day of work after 23 years as a setup machinist at Insty-Bit Inc, a machine shop that for the past 15 years has leased space from Accent Signage Systems, the business it sits next to in Minneapolis' Bryn Mawr neighborhood.

It was the usual retirement party, complete with a group lunch followed by cake. Most of the 25-person crew had left for the day, and he and another employee had stayed late to tie up loose ends when, at 5 p.m., the phone kept ringing. Frantic relatives were on the line.

"We kept getting breaking news off the radio from relatives, saying, 'Boy, there's a shooting,'" he said, slowly gesturing to the growing memorial outside Accent's main entrance. "But we didn't know it was right here."

Gillis said he and his co-worker never heard a single gunshot during Andrew Engeldinger's workplace rampage Thursday, which left five dead and three others wounded. Engeldinger committed suicide in the building afterward.

Once they spotted the army of squad cars and received calls alerting them that "all hell was breaking loose" inside the adjacent building, they secured the doors with chains and waited inside, Gillis said. Still, they believed it was a case of a shooter somewhere in the neighborhood who perhaps had run into the woods surrounding nearby Bassett Creek. It wasn't until SWAT officers entered Insty-Bit and found them that they realized the full extent of what had happened. As a precaution so early in the investigation, they were escorted outside in nylon handcuffs.

"Never heard a single shot. No sirens. Nothing," he said. "I would have thought we [would have] heard gunshots, but we heard nothing."

But, he added, "It looked like Iraq out here."

Knew the victims

Gillis said he never met Engeldinger, but he knew three of the victims -- Accent Signage owner Reuven Rahamim; his second-in-command, Rami Cooks, and UPS delivery driver Keith Basinski, whom he described as one of the nicest people he'd ever met.

Gillis was still shaken as he entered his workplace Saturday to retrieve his things.

"It's not easy. I retired here [Friday], but I couldn't be here to retire," he said. "You never imagine things like this will happen to you."

Two days after the horrific workplace shooting shocked the tight-knit neighborhood, residents and those who knew the victims struggled to cope in any small ways they could.

Memorials were set up near Accent Signage, where neighbors continued to quietly pay their respects with flowers, handmade signs and a wooden board for people to leave notes of condolence.

'No longer a crime scene'

Dan Miller, a UPS driver who knew Basinski, walked around the building singing and praying before he took some of the crime tape down and placed a pair of work boots and a UPS hat near the building. "This is no longer a crime scene; this must be a healing place," he said.

As he's been going on his routes, Miller said, customers have offered condolences for the loss of his co-worker. During a meeting Friday, local UPS drivers discussed the shooting and observed a moment of silence for Basinski. Grief counselors were also present.

"He was just a really good guy. He would always come in and smile," Miller said.

Lana Harris, who lives about two blocks from the business, became tearful after walking by a memorial on a bench outside Bryn Mawr Market with her two young grandchildren.

"It's so personal for us," she said. "They were our neighbors."

In the wake of the shooting and others around the country, Harris said she would like to hear more public discussion about gun control.

According to Hennepin County Medical Center, Accent's director of operations, John Souter, remained in serious condition Saturday. Production manager Eric Rivers was still in critical condition.

As of Saturday evening, plans had been announced for funerals for four of the victims. Services for Rahamim and Cooks will be held Sunday. A funeral for Ronald Edberg will be held Tuesday. Jacob Beneke will be laid to rest Wednesday.

Staff photographer David Joles contributed to this report. asimons@startribune.com • 612-673-4921 nicole.norfleet@startribune.com• 612-673-4495

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