Massacre At The Office

The last time Michael McDermott got a break was last March, when a former co-worker offered to help get him a job at Edgewater Technology, an Internet consulting firm. "He was extremely bright and extremely personable," that colleague told NEWSWEEK. "I recommended him to the company." It was a fatal mistake. For the 42-year-old McDermott, life was unraveling. Divorced in 1997 and deep in debt, he protested when Edgewater told him it had to garnish his wages for the IRS. The morning after Christmas, his Chrysler dealer apparently called him at work about repossessing his car. McDermott told them it was parked at Edgewater's Wakefield, Mass., office and that they could come get it. Then the unkempt bear of a man allegedly grabbed three high-powered guns he'd smuggled into work, strode down the hall and mercilessly killed seven co-workers in seven minutes. Police found McDermott sitting in the reception area. "I speak no German," was all he said as they wrestled him to the floor.

The rampage evoked images of other workplace sprees in San Francisco, Atlanta and Honolulu. Those tragedies heightened calls for stricter gun laws. But this time, the shootings may have actually exposed the limits of the law. Massachusetts, after all, is the toughest gun state in the nation, the only one with mandatory licensing and registration. And yet none of that stopped McDermott, who pleaded not guilty last week. At one point, he had been issued a license for a shotgun and a semiautomatic pistol; it wasn't yet clear where he got the other gun, an AK-47-style assault rifle that did most of the damage in the assault. Tougher national standards might have made a difference. But even anti-gun activists agree that when a guy makes up his mind to kill for no good reason, there's not much any law can do about it.

McDermott had been planning his moment. In addition to the three guns he used, police found a semiautomatic rifle in a kind of portable coat closet near his desk. His style was vengeful. He shot Rose Manfredi, 49, twice in the legs, then blasted through her head as she tried to crawl away. Twenty-nine-year-old Jennifer Bragg Capobianco had returned that day from maternity leave; she died slumped over her keyboard.

McDermott hardly stood out in the unconventional techie world. "I don't think he was any weirder that many other of the people who work there," a former employee says. But the former Navy submariner was a regular visitor to explosives Web sites. (Police found bomb-making ingredients at his home.) He was supposed to be taking anti-depressant medication. He apparently fired off some rounds in a nearby wood on Christmas Eve, alarming local cops, who searched for him the next day. They didn't find him. Instead, McDermott arrived at work after the holiday, early and angry. For him and seven victims, it was the last day at the office.