Miller South Lawyers Back to Work After Going on Lockdown on Friday
Posted Nov 9, 2009 9:42 AM CST
By Debra Cassens Weiss
Updated: The mood is somber today at the Orlando law firm Miller, South & Milhausen. One Friday, the firm went on lockdown while police sought a man who shot six people in its office building, four floors below.
The suspect, Jason Rodriguez, had been fired from the engineering firm located on the building's eighth floor, Reynolds, Smith & Hills, in 2007. His lawyer, public defender Robert Wesley, said Rodriguez is “very, very mentally ill,” according to the New York Times and the Associated Press. Rodriguez was arrested at his mother’s house later on Friday.
Legal secretary Susan DeWitt said Miller South began to hear rumors about the shooting soon after it occurred on Friday. Lawyers and staffers were told to lock the doors of the law firm and stayed there until members of the SWAT team came to escort them out of the building.
“It was just crazy,” she told the ABA Journal. “We could see what was going on outside, but we didn’t know what was going on as far as what floor. We heard rumors that it was the eighth floor or the garage.”
Outside were police, ambulances, dogs and horses. The atmosphere was tense. Today, “It’s a little bit more quiet, more somber” at the firm, she said.
Partner Scott Rost told the ABA Journal that the shooting apparently began at about the same time he returned to his firm after enjoying a school picnic with his 6-year-old son, though he didn't learn of it until he was back at work in his office.
Miller South first learned of the shooting through an e-mail alert, and many lawyers and staffers came to Rost’s office to observe the gathering police presence outside. More information came from a firm employee who was at a Starbucks across the street and had called to report victims running from the building.
“It began to take on a very surreal 9-11 type aspect,” he said. Still, staffers remained cool-headed. Managing partner Todd South and office manager Tracy Taylor walked the halls to make sure everyone was accounted for and kept everyone updated on the situation.
“All of us were concerned, no one was panicking. I was very proud of everyone,” Rost said.
Rost's three of his children also experienced the tragedy since their school was on lockdown until the suspect was arrested. “I’m not traumatized, I don’t need counseling and I certainly wouldn’t compare myself to any of the people who suffered physical injuries,” he says of the experience. “But it’s also not a small thing to go through.”
Rost spent the weekend playing with his children and thinking about what is most important in life. His conclusion: “The time that we spend with the people we love is infinitely important because there is no way to know how much of it you have, no matter how old you are, or what stage in life you have reached.”
Otis Beckford, 26, died in the shooting. He was a computer-assisted design technician for the engineering firm, the Orlando Sentinel reports. The other shooting victims were expected to survive.
Updated at 12:09 p.m. to include interview with lawyer Scott Rost.