OKLAHOMA CITY -- A man who gunned down a Southwest Airlines employee outside of Oklahoma City’s airport likely did so in retaliation for having lost his own job with the airline last year, police said Wednesday.
Lloyd Dean Buie, 45, killed 52-year-old Michael Winchester on Tuesday as Winchester was leaving work and walking to an employee parking lot, police Capt. Paco Balderrama said at a news conference. Police said the gunman lay in wait outside the airport before the killing while hundreds of people waited for flights nearby, police said. Buie fired the shot from the fourth floor of a parking garage when Winchester was about 50 yards away, he said.
Balderrama said Buie likely would have needed a scope on his rifle to shoot Winchester from that distance.
“It would definitely require familiarity with a rifle,” he said. “You don’t have to be an expert marksman to hit a 50-yard shot, but it’s not an easy shot either.”
Buie was later found dead in his pickup truck in the garage of a gunshot wound to the head. Police think he shot himself.
“We know his intention was to go to the airport to hurt someone,” Balderrama said. “The suspect knew where the employees parked and where they would be walking.”
Buie quit his job as a ramp agent for Southwest Airlines in April 2015 after he refused to take an alcohol screening, airline spokeswoman Brandy King said Wednesday. She said co-workers had suspected Buie was under the influence at work, but she declined to say if Winchester, a ramp supervisor who had worked for Southwest for 29 years, was involved or to describe any interactions the two men may have had.
“Our Southwest family is grieving, as we are deeply saddened by the loss of our family member. Our focus remains on offering support to the Winchester family and Southwest employees during this difficult time,” King said.
Police said Winchester wasn’t Buie’s immediate supervisor, but they believe the incident that led to Buie’s resignation likely served as motive for the attack.
Winchester was a former punter for the Sooners from 1984-1986, and lettered on Barry Switzer’s 1985 national championship team. The victim’s son, James Winchester, is also a former Sooner football player and is the current long snapper for the Kansas City Chiefs.
“Our hearts are truly heavy for the entire Winchester Family. Mike was a former Sooner student athlete as was his son James/daughter Carolyn,” the school’s athletic director, Joe Castiglione, tweeted Tuesday afternoon. He added “daughter Becca was also a student athlete. Please keep this beautiful family in your prayers” in a later tweet.
Southwest’s CEO, Gary Kelly, said on Twitter that the airline “will do everything we can to support Mike’s family.”
The 1 p.m. shooting set off a scramble at the airport, with police immediately closing the sprawling complex and asking passengers inside to seek cover.
They diverted incoming flights and refused to give already-loaded aircraft permission to leave. There were concerns the gunman might have entered the terminal and mingled among passengers or employees.
Hundreds of people were stranded inside the terminal for more than three hours before officers began letting them leave slowly. Carney said about 300 people were held on aircraft away from the terminal after their planes landed ahead of a ground stop.
Police found the suspect’s truck in the garage about three hours after the shooting and determined that someone was inside. They were not sure whether he was dead or alive. After about 75 minutes, using a robot, officers determined the suspect was dead and gave an all-clear.
The airport handles between 7,000 and 8,000 passengers daily for Alaska, Delta, Southwest and United airlines and has a separate terminal that serves as a transfer center for federal inmates. A jet carrying inmates to the transfer site was allowed to land while the rest of the airport was shuttered.
Video from a television station helicopter showed what appeared to be a pool of blood about 100 feet from the airport’s employee parking area - and about 100 yards from the airport’s ticket counters and departure area.
While airports have high security, it wasn’t immediately known whether surveillance cameras might show the shooting, Balderrama said.
Balderrama initially said police had received reports of a possible second victim, but no one was found.
A number of inbound flights were diverted to other airports after Will Rogers suspended operations. Southwest redirected one flight back to Dallas while a Las Vegas to Houston flight that stops in Oklahoma City went to Amarillo, Texas, instead. Two commercial flights from Chicago’s O’Hare Airport were directed to Tulsa, about 100 miles away.
Flights were operating normally Wednesday morning.