Family and friends say Fresno plant victim was “a loving father and husband”

Salvador Diaz loved spending time with his sister’s family and eating at Wendy’s and Pizza Hut with her children. His cousin Ofelia Olea told the Fresno Bee that Diaz was, “one of the funniest people you could talk to, watch a movie with and laugh with.” Though formerly associated with gangs, Diaz was turning his life around. “I know his past hasn’t been the greatest, but he was changing,” Olea said. “He was doing what he needed to do to change his life.”

Diaz was one of four victims at a Fresno poultry plant where a man opened fire on his co-workers, killing two –including Diaz — and injuring two others before killing himself.

Friends and family held a candlelight vigil at the poultry plant yesterday where they also mourned the loss of second victim, 34 year-old Manuel Verdin, who has a 2-year-old son with his wife, Victoria. Verdin’s friend Chris Martinez gave a passionate prayer and said Victoria Verdin — who also works at Valley Protein — was “taking it pretty hard, but we’re here to take care of her.” He described his friend as a “happy, good character,” adding, “the Manuel that I knew was there for his kid. He was a loving father and husband.”

On Tuesday morning, Lawrence Jones, a recently discharged parolee who had worked at the plant for 14 months, began firing at his co-workers three hours into his shift. Police say he walked up to his first victim, 32 year-old Salvador Diaz, and shot him in the head. He then shot Verdin in the head before turning to shoot Arnulfo Conrriquez, 28, in the throat.

Diaz died at the scene. Verdin died at a local hospital. Conrriquez is in critical condition at Fresno’s Community Regional Medical Center.

According to police, many employees were unaware of the shooting because of noisy machinery and ear protection gear.

“I was working right there and I heard the gunshots and I just saw everybody running and screaming. The only thing I can remember is I saw one of the guys on the floor bleeding,” said Valley Protein employee Berto Ordaz to KSEE.

Fatima Lopez, 32, also saw the shooting. She tried to run when Jones spotted her and shot her in the buttocks. She was treated and released from the hospital.

After shooting Lopez, Jones placed his gun to the head of a fifth employee. The man survived because Jones ran out of ammunition. According to Valley Protein President Bob Coyle, Jones was confronted by a manager after going into a plant quick-freeze room. Jones then ran outside the building and killed himself.

“He was very selective in who he shot. He had opportunity to shoot other co-workers who were in the business at that time, but chose not to,” said Police Chief Jerry Dyer to KSEE.

“Nobody knows why it happened,” Coyle told the Fresno Bee. “There were no arguments that ensued or anything that led to this.”

Jones had been in and out of prison since 1991. In 1994 he was sentenced to 13 years in prison for robbery, then released on parole in 2001, says the Associated Press. Jones also served time for robbery, vehicle theft and other convictions. He was last paroled in June 2011.

“He was reviewed and he had not had any violations and so he was discharged from parole” in May, said department spokesman Luis Patino to the Associated Press.

“He was a good employee. Never missed a day, never late. He would say, `Hi Bob. … I’m blessed to be here.’ That’s how he’d say things,” Coyle said. He and Michelle Coyle, the plant’s co-owner, hired Jones despite his criminal past to help him get back on his feet. “He kept to himself, he was quiet, but he got things done.”

Neighbors offered conflicting opinions of the gunman. One neighbor said he seemed “like a real nice person.” Another who lived two doors down from Jones told KSEE, “He never smiled or even looked at you. He was intimidating.”

The Fresno Bee reported that a Fresno County mental health evaluation from 2004 diagnosed Jones with “intermittent explosive disorder, drug-induced psychotic disorder and dependence on multiple substances including amphetamine, marijuana and alcohol.” Jail psychiatric services staff had described him as “mentally unstable.”

For now, relatives and co-workers are still stunned by the violent shooting. There’s no word on when the funerals will be held.

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