Smithsburg shooting: Investigation continues into fatal Columbia Machine shooting

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SMITHSBURG, Md. — On Friday, investigators were trying to piece together what happened and determine the motive for a shooting the day before that left three people dead and a fourth fatally injured at a factory in western Maryland.

The incident happened around 2:30 p.m. Thursday when an employee of Columbia Machine, a concrete molding company in Smithsburg, shot and killed his co-workers, authorities said.

The suspect drove away but was arrested shortly after just outside Hagerstown, about 10 miles from Smithsburg, according to Washington County Sheriff Douglas Mullendore.

Three dead after man shot co-workers in Smithsburg, Maryland, police say

Officials said the suspect exchanged gunfire with a Maryland State Police trooper who suffered a shoulder injury. The suspect was also injured. As of Friday morning, he was in stable condition in a hospital and in custody, according to sheriff’s department officials. The soldier was released with non-life-threatening injuries.

The soldiers later found a gun in the suspect’s vehicle, and Mullendore said the weapon used at the factory and to shoot the soldier was a semi-automatic handgun, but did not release the make and model.

The deceased has been identified as Mark Allan Frey, 50; Charles Edward Minnick Jr., 31; and Joshua Robert Wallace, 30. Authorities have released the name of the fourth man who was injured, but The Post generally does not name living victims of crime without their consent.

Sheriff’s officials identified the suspected shooter as a 23-year-old man from West Virginia, but did not release his name Thursday because he had not yet been charged. Authorities did not specify where the victims resided.

Efforts to reach family and friends of Wallace and Minnick were unsuccessful Thursday night and Friday. A woman who identified herself as Wallace’s mother said she was too upset to speak. “I just can’t right now,” she said, her voice muffled by sobs.

Columbia Machine’s website says it designs and manufactures concrete products, including mixers and molds, and serves customers in more than 100 countries. In 2019 Columbia Machine purchased the Smithsburg plant, which was a family business called Bikle Manufacturing that started in 1971.

Columbia Machine CEO Rick Goode said in a statement that he and others at the company were “deeply saddened” by the shooting. The company declined to say how many employees worked there.

“We are working closely with local authorities as the investigation continues,” Goode said. “Our top priority during this tragic event is the safety and well-being of our employees and their families.”

The only sign of the violence that had taken place inside the factory was a small bouquet of yellow flowers leaning against the chain-link fence. He had been left near the entrance that morning by a man who said he didn’t know the victims but had grown up in Smithsburg and felt the need to do something – anything – to show that they matter and that people care.

Joanie Gerber, whose grandfather started Bikle Manufacturing and then sold the company to Columbia Machine, said Friday she was “deeply saddened by what happened.” She heard about the tragedy when her husband called her while she was at the grocery store.

“He said, ‘There was an incident in the building,'” Gerber recalled. “I was upset and sickened.”

Gerber said one of the victims – Frey – worked for her and her grandfather, having been a machinist there for 25 years, and went to the local high school with him.

“Mark was a very good employee,” she said. “He was a stable employee. You could count on him.

She added: “He’s sticking to something. If he said he was going to be there, he was.

Gerber said she met Frey just a few weeks ago and he told her he was expecting his first grandchild.

Frey grew up on a farm just three miles from the factory where he was shot and killed, neighbors and relatives said.

“He grew up as a country boy,” said Bill Fager, 77, who has lived in the nearby Frey family home since 1973.

Fager’s daughter rode the school bus with Mark through middle school and high school.

“He did all the ordinary country things, farming, hunting, fishing,” Fager said.

Frey’s father worked as an agricultural foreman, and Frey spent his teenage years working on a nearby dairy farm and creamery owned by his aunt and uncle.

“He was a good boy, happy, lucky,” said his cousin David Herbst, 67, who grew up with Mark and now runs the family creamery. “He helped us throw the hay, drive the tractors.”

Herbst lost contact with Frey after Frey in recent years moved to Waynesboro, Pennsylvania to live there with her significant other.

The shooting occurred on the outskirts of Smithsburg, in a rural area dotted with farmland, rock quarries, cow pastures and sporadic homes. On Friday morning, the white and brown manufacturing plant was quiet, the chain-link fence leading to its entrance locked. Several cars and trucks sat quietly in the parking lot.

Neighbors say there’s often loud banging coming from the manufacturing plant – the sound of drilling and grinding metal on metal – which is why many weren’t even aware a shooting had occurred until the police arrive.

“We didn’t hear any gunshots or anything unusual,” said Kim Gravely, who lives three houses from the factory. She said she didn’t know there had been a shooting until her sons saw police cars swarming the two-lane street they share with the facility.

Aaron Mace, owner of the body shop which has operated directly across the street from the establishment for 34 years, said his family purchased ownership of their shop from the Bikle family years ago, quietly sharing the corner of Bikle Road with them until the factory is sold.

“I grew up here. Things like that just don’t happen here in Smithsburg,” Mace said. ” It is a small city. Everyone knows each other and sticks together. »

The shooting in Maryland is the latest in a series of mass shootings that have occurred across the country and sparked a national discussion about gun access. The succession began in May at a Buffalo supermarket that left 10 dead, followed by a shooting in Uvalde, Texas that left 21 dead, including 19 children. This was followed by another shooting at a Tulsa hospital that left four people dead.

For the Smithsburg incident, the FBI Baltimore Field Office Evidence Response Team was on scene, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was also assisting.

“My heartfelt condolences and sympathy go out to the families of everyone involved in today’s incident,” Mullendore said. “It is certainly a tragic incident here in Washington County.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that authorities had not identified the surviving victim. Police have released his name, but the Post generally does not identify surviving victims of crime without their consent.

Meagan Flynn, Erin Cox, Alice Crites, Justin Jouvenal, Peter Hermann, Jasmine Hilton, Monika Mathur, Dan Morse, Ian Shapira and Clarence Williams contributed to this report.

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