Nathaniel Brown struggled to pay the bills. His relationship with his girlfriend had recently ended. And five months after he was hired at Ohio State, the man whom supervisors described as “hostile” learned he was losing his job.
“He’d been having a lot of financial troubles,” said Ray Conrad, who lived next to Brown’s home of 20 years on the near East Side.
At 3:30 a.m. Tuesday, Brown, 51, walked into the maintenance building at 2000 Tuttle Park Place, where he checked in for work every morning. But Tuesday he came in halfway through his shift — armed with two handguns — and shot two of his bosses before killing himself, police say.
Larry Wallington, 48, a building services manager, was pronounced dead at the scene.
Henry Butler, 60, an operations shift leader, was shot in the shoulder and was in stable condition after he underwent surgery at the OSU Medical Center.
Documents show that during Brown’s brief employment, he clashed with his supervisors. In handwritten notes describing Brown’s work, an unidentified employee says it’s “like he has ADHD — totally lost if not carefully supervised.”
And when a supervisor gave Brown his 90-day review early this year, he became hostile and yelled “You might as well fire me now!” according to the notes. The employee had to call Butler into the room to calm Brown.
On Tuesday morning, Brown’s supervisors had gathered in Room 107 of the building to conduct an interview early in the morning, police said. When Brown entered the room, he specifically asked for Wallington, according to a source who asked not to be identified because OSU employees were told not to discuss the shooting.
When Wallington tried to flee, Brown chased him around the room and continued to shoot at him, the source said. Wallington was responsible for conducting Brown’s performance reviews.
The shooting took place one week after Brown learned from supervisors that he was losing his job. Brown didn’t do his job very well, according to documents filed by his supervisors. For example, on Feb. 1, Butler found Brown sleeping in a classroom while he was waiting for wax to dry on the floors. That was Brown’s final warning.
A month later, Brown’s bosses decided he still hadn’t met their expectations and they decided to fire him.
“He does not follow through on simple, routine tasks and has to be closely supervised as a result,” wrote Richelle Simonson, director of communication for Facilities Operations and Development, in a Feb. 15 report.
“He has been tardy on a couple of occasions, but the primary reason for the [termination] request is based on lack of performance,” Butler wrote in his Feb. 17 request to dismiss Brown.
Six OSU employees other than the shooter were reported to be in the building during the shooting, and some of them were in the room. The details of the shooting are hazy.
An investigator confirmed that multiple shots were fired, but it was unclear how many, or if Brown used both guns he brought into the building.
And although initial reports from police indicated that only one victim was killed, it now appears that both Wallington and Brown died on the scene.
“We have people shot, please come,” a frantic 911 caller told dispatchers immediately after the shooting. “They said he shot himself, they said he shot himself … is he dead?” the woman asked another witness about the shooter.
Police said they responded to the maintenance building within two minutes and closed a southern portion of Tuttle Park Place for much of the day.
University officials sent a campus-wide e-mail shortly after 7 a.m. saying that a shooting had occurred on campus, but that the campus had been secured and that OSU would continue normal operations.
The maintenance building and surrounding areas remained closed throughout the day, causing confusion among maintenance workers who report to work in the building every morning. Workers on campus during the shooting were taken to Central Classrooms, while the following shift was told to report to the Knowlton School of Architecture.
As of Tuesday evening the maintenance building was still closed for the investigation.
The rage behind the shooting was unknown to Brown’s Grasmere Avenue neighbors, who say he generally kept to himself. Although he had financial troubles, he never caused trouble, they said, and he had been living alone for about a year since his relationship with his girlfriend ended.
“He was always immaculate about his yard,” his neighbor Conrad said.
When he wasn’t pulling weeds in his yard, he would fire up his grill — one of his favorite pastimes — and invite friends over to play a game of chess.
Before coming to OSU, Brown had maintenance jobs at a Columbus McDonald’s restaurant and car dealership, and he graduated from high school, according to his university job application.
None of his neighbors said they knew Brown had been fired, and none noticed anything unusual in the last week.
Students organized a vigil at 10 p.m. Tuesday outside the maintenance building to pray for the victims of the shooting.
Everdeen Mason contributed as a reporter for this story.