Warehouse worker fired after unable to work after Memphis shooting

  • A Tennessee worker said he was fired after failing to start work following a shooting spree in Memphis.
  • The shooting spree on September 7 left parts of the city on alert or on lockdown for several hours.
  • Joseph Williamson, 26, said he was fired after suffering from anxiety, preventing him from going to work.

A warehouse worker in Tennessee said he was fired after he couldn’t go to work after the shooting spree in Memphis earlier this month.

Joseph Williamson, 26, was on his way to jazz band practice at the University of Memphis when he unknowingly drove into an active shooter scene on the evening of September 7th. As he pulled into the parking lot at the university’s music building, he realized he had a flat tire, rendering his means of escape essentially useless.

“As soon as I parked, I got out of the car and noticed I had a flat tire. So in the distance, I could see my friend with his bass running towards me,” Williamson recalled to Insider. “He said, ‘Hey man, leave all your stuff in the car.’ We must enter the building now. There is an active shooter at the University of Memphis””.

Williamson had just started a new job as a package handler at a Charms Candy warehouse a week earlier, but said the shooting would cost him his job.

“The first thing that came to my mind is that I’m going to die”

The shooting — which left three dead and three wounded in Memphis — left parts of the city on high alert for hours as the suspect, 19-year-old Ezekiel Kelly, led police on a high-speed chase and changed vehicles twice. The first killing occurred in the early hours of September 7th at 12:56 am. and then the gunman went on a “mobile mass shooting” at about 4:38 p.m., according to ABC 24.

When he arrived at the university after work, Williamson initially thought his girlfriend, Ellis Keplinger, was making a bad joke about a shooting, but he soon realized that Keplinger was right.

“I hear, bang, bang, and I see a crowd of people scattering. So I immediately grabbed my friend and we ran into the music building,” Williamson said. “The first thing that came to my mind is that I’m going to die. Because here’s my take: I get there, I have a flat tire, they tell me there’s a shooter on campus, then I hear gunshots, and now I’m in a room and we can’t let’s lock the door.”

Williamson and Keplinger were housed in the university’s music building with a small group of others. They stayed there for over an hour until Keplinger suggested they take shelter at a nearby restaurant where he worked, where they could lock the doors and huddle together.

At a restaurant called The Second Line, Williamson said they watched the filming spree unfold on television in real time. ABC 24 reported that two people were shot – one fatally – on Poplar Avenue, a few blocks away from where they had taken refuge in the restaurant.

Keplinger told Insider that when they arrived at the restaurant, the suspect had “just walked down the street” and there were “multiple police cars following him.” He added that Williamson, whom he has known for years, was “just very shaken up” by the whole ordeal.

“We were terrified,” Williamson said. “I’m stressed, because I have work the next morning, and I’ve got a flat tire, and Memphis is now on lockdown, and there’s a shooter out there.”

A bicyclist and motorists ride down Poplar Blvd to McLean Blvd.  intersection Thursday, September 8, 2022, a day after a gunman opened fire on people in the area.

A bicyclist and motorists ride down Poplar Blvd at McLean Blvd. intersection on September 8, 2022, a day after a gunman opened fire on people in the area.

John Amis/AP

Williamson said he called his company’s human resources department and was assured the situation was out of control. He also texted his supervisor a photo of his flat tire, according to messages seen by Insider.

“I won’t be at work tomorrow,” he told his boss. “I got an apartment in Memphis during the lockdown from the shooter. I heard the gunshots and the sirens.”

“I really felt useless, like I was disposable”

While Williamson was at the restaurant, parts of the city went into lockdown as the shooting spree unfolded. The University of Memphis was closed at 7:30 p.m., followed later by AutoZone Park Stadium, where fans watching a minor league baseball game were housed in a press box, according to ABC 24. The city’s public transportation was suspended. also the bus and trolley services, reported outlet.

“I feel like I can’t trust anything or anyone. I feel like I’m not safe at all from this experience. So I didn’t go to work because one, I had already stopped because of the lockdown. But two, I felt like I couldn’t do anything without shaking,” Williamson said. “After the shoot, I’m a wreck.”

The police announced to a tweet at 22:26 that they took the suspect into custody. Williamson said he and Keplinger tracked down someone to help him replace his flat tire, which took about an hour, and then another hour to get home because some city streets were part of a crime scene. When he finally got home after 2:00 a.m., he “couldn’t sleep all night” because of his anxiety from the shooting.

A police officer investigates at the scene where a man was taken into custody after a series of shootings across the city on September 7, 2022 in Memphis.

A police officer investigates at the scene where a man was taken into custody after a series of shootings across the city of Memphis on September 7, 2022.

Brad Vest/Getty Images

Williamson was surprised to receive a call from his supervisor the next day, saying his work badge had been disabled and terminated because of his presence.

“I didn’t know what to say to that. And I said, ‘Did I say I was in the middle of a shooting?'” Williamson recalled asking his supervisor. “And they said, ‘Yeah, we understand, but HR says that … it still counts against you.'”

Williamson told Insider that he had previously missed another day of work, but was told upon hiring that he simply had to explain any absences to his superiors in advance.

“They said if you have two no-calls, meaning you just didn’t show up for your shift, then they’ll get rid of you,” Williamson said. “They just said as long as we communicate with the supervisor and HR about why we’re not there, we’ll be fine, which I did both times.”

A representative for Charms Candy, which is owned by Tootsie Roll Industries, did not respond to Insider’s multiple requests for comment.

In the wake of the shooting and termination, Williamson said he felt “heavy.”

“I really felt useless, like I was disposable, and that was a time when I really needed someone to talk to about it and I felt like no one was taking it seriously,” Williamson said. “I didn’t deserve to be let go because I was basically a victim.”

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