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Gunman kills hostage, then himself at NASA building

Employees were evacuated from a building at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston yesterday. A gunman was able to get a snub-nosed revolver past security. (Brett Coomer/houston chronicle via associated press)

HOUSTON -- A NASA contract worker took a handgun inside an office building yesterday at the Johnson Space Center and fatally shot a hostage before killing himself, police said. A second hostage escaped with minor injuries.

The gunman, William Phillips, 60, was able to take a snub-nosed revolver past NASA security and barricade himself in the building, which houses communications and tracking systems for the space shuttle, authorities said. He apparently had a dispute with the slain hostage, police said.

NASA spokesman Doug Peterson said the agency would review its security.

"Any organization would take a good, hard look at the kind of review process we have with people," Peterson said.

To enter the space center, workers flash an ID badge as they drive past a security guard. The badge allows workers access to designated buildings.

NASA identified the slain hostage as David Beverly, a civil servant who worked at the agency. Beverly, who was shot in the chest, was probably killed "in the early minutes of the whole ordeal," police said.

A second hostage, identified by NASA as Fran Crenshaw, escaped after being bound to a chair with duct tape, police Captain Dwayne Ready said.

The gunman, an employee of Jacobs Engineering of Pasadena, Calif., shot himself once in the head more than three hours after the standoff began, police said. Initial reports indicated two shots were fired about 1:40 p.m. and another shot was heard about 5 p.m.

John Prosser, executive vice president of Jacobs Engineering, confirmed that the gunman was an employee but declined to release any information about him.

Police said homicide investigators searched the gunman's house where he lived alone and found no guns or any evidence about the shooting.

Mike Coats, the director of the Johnson Space Center, said Phillips had worked for NASA for 12 to 13 years and "up until recently, he has been a good employee."

Police Chief Harold Hurtt said there was apparently a dispute between Phillips and Beverly, but didn't elaborate.

During the confrontation, NASA employees in the building were evacuated and others were ordered to remain in their offices for several hours. Roads within the 1,600-acre space center campus were blocked off, and a middle school kept its teachers and students inside as classes ended.

Doors to Mission Control were locked as standard procedure. NASA employees and contract workers were kept informed of the situation by e-mail.

President Bush was informed about the gunman as he flew back to Washington from an event in Michigan, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.

Building 44 is slightly separated from most of the space center, which includes Mission Control and the training center for astronauts. NASA said mission operations were not affected, including flight control for the space station.

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