Andrew J. Engeldinger's descent into darkness began two years ago, but even as he retreated from family and bought handguns and ammunition, he kept coming to work at the Accent Signage Systems factory in Minneapolis.

Engeldinger, 36, worked his shift Thursday and was told that after a dozen years, he no longer had a job. Then he pulled out a 9mm Glock handgun and committed the largest workplace massacre in recent Minnesota history.

On Friday, the scale of the rampage came into focus: Five people were killed, including the founder of the acclaimed sign manufacturer and a visiting UPS driver. Three others were injured.

Police Chief Tim Dolan said Engeldinger apparently spared some employees in "the hellish time" as workers dialed 911 and hid in terror. It all ended in minutes, after Engeldinger went into the building's basement and fired a final bullet into his own head.

Police who searched his home across town in south Minneapolis found a second handgun and packaging for 10,000 rounds of ammunition, but no obvious answers.

"Maybe something finally snapped, but I don't know why," said his uncle Joseph Engeldinger.

The victims included company owner Reuven Rahamim, 61, of St. Louis Park; United Parcel Service driver Keith Basinski, 50, of Spring Lake Park; Rami Cooks, 62, of Minnetonka; Ronald Edberg, 58, of Brooklyn Center and Jacob Beneke, 34, of Maple Grove.

Two employees remained hospitalized at Hennepin County Medical Center late Friday afternoon. Accent's director of operations, John Souter of Wayzata, was in serious condition and production manager Eric Rivers was in critical condition.

James Honerman, a spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry, called it the deadliest case of workplace violence in Minnesota since the department began keeping figures in 1992. In the last two decades, 95 have died, 68 from shootings.

Bright, sensitive loner

Engeldinger grew up in Richfield and came to work for Accent Signage in the late 1990s, where he was trained as an engraver by Barry Lawrence.

"He was real intelligent, caught on fast," said Lawrence, who left Accent Signage but stayed in touch with the company's officers.

Lawrence said Engeldinger was conscientious, and worried about his 401(k) plan and fluctuations in the stock market.

"I remember when he was hired; he was a quiet guy," he said. "I wouldn't have thought he would have done anything like this."

Meaghan Norlander, former comptroller at Accent Signage who left the company in 2008, described Engeldinger as "a loner" who seemed always under stress.

She said that he "internalized everything" and complained at times about being shifted from one job to another.

"The standards were really high," Norlander said. "Reuven was driven. If you didn't live up to his expectations, you failed."

The relationship between Engeldinger and Rahamim was a rocky one. Norlander recalled a shouting match between the two in 2007, although she could not remember the details.

In 2003, Engeldinger bought a home in the Powderhorn neighborhood. Neighbors rarely paid attention to the slight man with a ponytail who occasionally worked in the yard.

"Never met him. Never heard anything about him," said John Evans, who lives two houses north of Engeldinger.

But in recent years, Engeldinger's family began worrying about what appeared to be his paranoia and delusions. Two years ago, his parents attended a 12-week "Family to Family" class offered by the Minnesota National Alliance on Mental Illness. The class is taught by family members of mentally ill people.

His family hadn't had contact with him for about 21 months after he had shown signs of possible mental illness, said Sue Abderholden, executive director of the Minnesota National Alliance on Mental Illness.

"They were trying to get him to seek treatment; they did think something was wrong," she said. But Engeldinger didn't appear to be a threat to himself or others -- criteria for petitioning for commitment to mental health care, she said.

Abderholden said he had been paranoid with some delusions, symptoms of possible schizophrenia, but was working and able to live alone.

"He was, to the outside world, doing OK," she said.

About a year ago, he bought two handguns, including the Glock 9-millimeter, Dolan said. "Obviously, he'd been practicing how to use that gun," the chief said.

Bravery and tragedy

Engeldinger worked his usual shift on Thursday, but at the end of the day he was called to the front office. He apparently walked into that meeting armed.

Dolan said Engeldinger first shot people in the front office area, then walked to the loading dock, shooting others. He singled out his targets, walking past some people. Basinski, the UPS driver, appeared to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, Dolan said. Some people in the building fought back, the chief said, but he wouldn't elaborate.

About 4:30 p.m., 911 calls from inside the building alerted police to the shooting moments after it began, Dolan said. Three officers arrived and immediately found victims inside upon entering, he said. Paramedics followed them in to treat the injured, even though it was still unclear where the shooter was or if he was still a threat, said Dolan, who praised the police and the paramedics for their bravery. He said it was the most traumatic scene that the officers had encountered; the first officers on the scene have taken temporary leave.

No shots were fired after police arrived, he said. The officers helped some people out of the building. A SWAT team arrived and began searching the building. They found Engeldinger's body in the basement.

In a statement, Engeldinger's parents, Charles and Carolyn, said they will cooperate with authorities, and that their son's struggles with mental illness and withdrawal from his family are "not an excuse for his actions, but sadly, may be a partial explanation."

They said their hearts go out to the victims and their families. "Nothing we can say can make up for their loss."

Engeldinger's uncle said that, along with the grief for all the families involved, they're also consumed with puzzlement.

"He wasn't a monster, he wasn't evil, he wasn't a bad guy," Joseph Engeldinger said. • 612-673-4921 • 612-673-7382 • 612-673-7329 • 612-673-4482

Star Tribune staff writers Kelly Smith, David Chanen, Maya Rao and Mary Jane Smetanka contributed to this report.