Hastings man worked in the same building as the deadly workplace Minneapolis shootingArea News
-- On his second-to-last day of work, life was supposed to be simple for Hastings resident John Gillis.
By: Chad Richardson , Pierce County Herald
On his second-to-last day of work, life was supposed to be simple for Hastings resident John Gillis. He had retirement cake over lunch, and his mind drifted to all the ways he was going to be spending his retirement.
Those plans were all changed in an instant when a disgruntled employee in the same building as Gillis opened fire in Minneapolis, killing five people and then himself.
Gillis and a co-worker were inside Insty-Bits, working away as machinists at about 5 p.m. when they heard a door slam in the back of their shop, which shared a building with Accent Signage.
Gillis went down to open the door and felt someone pushing back. He pushed again, and the person on the other side pushed hard. That’s when his co-worker told him that police were outside and that they had rifles.
“We didn’t know anything was going down,” Gillis said. “There were no sirens, but we knew they were looking for somebody.”
About 20 minutes later, his co-worker’s wife called and asked him if he was OK. She knew more at that point than anyone inside Insty-Bits.
“What do you mean, are we OK?” asked the co-worker to his wife.
She then told him people had been shot.
That’s when Gillis and his co-worker got busy. They put a bar on the door so nobody could come in, and then they waited for police. They didn’t want to just walk outside to face dozens of law enforcement personnel who were pointing their guns at the building.
About an hour later, Gillis heard a banging on the back door. He went to the back and spoke through the door to the SWAT team outside, telling them: “Hold on. We’re a couple of old guys and we work here. We were waiting for you. There are two of us here. We didn’t want to come out.”
The SWAT team members told Gillis to take the bar out of the door, then to get down on the floor. He and his co-worker complied and the SWAT team members entered the room. They handcuffed Gillis and his co-worker as a safety precaution until they could determine their identities. They were led to a nearby truck and questioned, then released.
Gillis and his colleague stood outside on the street corner, wondering what to do next. Their keys were inside the building and they were not allowed back in. As they waited there for rides to arrive, they began to count their blessings.
“It was just breathtaking, almost,” Gillis said. “I was really calm through it, but I started to think, anything could have happened. The guy could have come through our place trying to get away. There could have been two more dead guys down there, or someone else in the hospital. Who knows?
“There’s a lot of ‘what-ifs’ and all that stuff. You just have to give thanks when it’s all over and you are standing there in one piece.”
Gillis said once he learned the authorities didn’t know where the shooter was, he got nervous.
“It wasn’t real scary, because we didn’t know what was going on for most of it,” Gillis said. “We didn’t hear a gunshot. The only time we started to get a little apprehensive was when we found out there was dead people next door and they didn’t know where the shooter was. That got our attention.”
Over the years, Gillis had worked closely with the staff at Accent, and he had crossed paths several times with the UPS driver who also died in the shooting.
“I knew those guys,” Gillis said. “We had worked together on different little things. I knew the UPS guy, too. I saw his shoes on the dock, and I knew it was him (under the body bag). I’ve seen those shoes every day.”
While it was traumatic and inconvenient for Gillis, his thoughts this week are with the people next door who he got to know over the years.
“This might have been inconvenient for us, but let me tell you, those people at Accent, whether they ended up in the hospital or not, they really went through some crap,” Gillis said. “I felt lucky to be out there on the street corner. I didn’t care that I didn’t have my car.”
As he was there with his co-worker, Gillis was finally able to get in touch with his wife, Kosy.
She had been at a church dinner and hadn’t heard of the shooting until she returned home. Once she got home, her phone was ringing off the hook with people wondering if her husband was OK.
“I thought she’d have a heart attack when she found out they were shooting the place up,” Gillis said.
Gillis had phoned some friends earlier and asked them to keep calling his house so that when Kosy returned she’d get the news that John was fine. Eventually Gillis was able to get back to Hastings.
He had planned to work Friday, but with the entire area marked off as a crime scene, there was no way he was getting back in, and his retirement began a day early.
“It was quite a retirement party,” Gillis said.