Portrait Of A Killer

  • Every few weeks for six years, Michael McDermott drove up to an hour to Dedham, Mass., to donate blood platelets. He went to the Red Cross there because it was the only one in the area with the equipment required for the involved procedure--which takes two hours, about twice as long as ordinary blood donation. McDermott gave voluntarily, receiving no payment in return. On the lower right of his car's rear bumper, he pasted a sticker: give blood.

    But last week McDermott chose to draw blood. The morning after Christmas, McDermott, 42, dressed in a plaid shirt and jeans, was chatting about video games with a colleague at Edgewater Technology in Wakefield, Mass., where he wrote code for and tested the company's software. Just after 11 a.m., however, he strolled through the lobby with an AK-47 assault rifle, shotgun and semiautomatic pistol. When a co-worker asked, "Where are you going with that?" he responded, "Human resources." He then shot to death two employees at reception, headed down the hall to the human-resources department, picked off three people and proceeded to accounting, where three other workers were barricaded. McDermott blasted through the door and gunned down two. (The third employee survived by concealing herself beneath a desk.) "No one saw it coming," said a former employee who asked to remain anonymous. "I was talking to one guy who was sitting in the conference room when the first bullets were fired. The bullets flew through the glass. They had no idea what was going on. They hit the ground, and one individual had glass all in his hair." McDermott then returned to the lobby, sat in a chair within reach of a black tote bag packed with ammunition and waited for the police.

    Money troubles seem to have triggered his rampage. The burly engineer hunted down the two departments--accounting and human resources--that were about to garnishee his wages to pay overdue taxes to the Internal Revenue Service. McDermott had complained to colleagues about the garnishment and had asked for a cash advance a week before Christmas. The request was denied by one of the victims. The last straw, however, may have been a call he received at 11:07 a.m. on the day of the shooting. A Chrysler representative informed him that his 1994 Plymouth was going to be repossessed. According to the Boston Globe, he responded blithely, "I won't be needing it. Come pick it up."

    There had been one warning. Haverhill police received a call at 11:40 p.m. on Christmas Eve reporting gunshots. Investigators learned that a man driving a sedan with the license plate MUCKO had been spotted in a wooded area where they later found a handful of shotgun shells. McDermott was nicknamed "Mucko" by a nephew who couldn't pronounce his first name. "We didn't encounter McDermott," says Sergeant Stephen Brighi. "If luck had been on our side, history could have possibly been changed."

    The second of Richard and Rosemary Martinez's four children, McDermott exchanged his Hispanic surname for a slight variation on his middle one (McDermod) in 1980, four years after he joined the Navy. He served on the nuclear submarine U.S.S. Narwhal, an assignment that required rigorous psychological screening. However, says Bruce Joy, one of his crewmates, "when somebody violated his personal space and got too close to him he responded by sneezing directly in the guy's face." Even so, says Joy, "in the bizarre world of the submarine community there was nothing that would suggest that he would do what he did." McDermott worked as a nuclear-reactor operator at the Maine Yankee plant after leaving the Navy but abandoned the highly specialized job after six years of training, just when it should have begun paying dividends.

    It is unclear what he did for the next few years, but he eventually joined the Duracell company and married a childhood sweetheart, Monica Sheehan. McDermott summed up that experience in 1997 on a website for Narwhal veterans: "Well, I came back to the land of my youth and married a childhood friend. Lasted three and a half years before she split." His wife moved away to a Chicago suburb. In the meantime, the man who had met the strict weight limits to work on a sub ballooned to 350 lbs.

    The answering machine at his one-bedroom apartment the day after the killing went, "Hello, this is Michael's computer. Here I am...brain the size of a planet, and what does he have me doing?...answering the phone." It was a playful reference to the sci-fi cult classic The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. In his home, police found fuses, blasting caps and three gallons of nitric acid in a cardboard box labeled DANGEROUS: DO NOT MOVE. McDermott had a firearms-identification card for rifles and shotguns that expired in 1999. Neighbors remember him as an unsmiling presence, but by Christmas he seemed to be in good spirits. "I've never seen him cheery, but he was acting cheery on Christmas," says his neighbor Kevin Forzese.

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