The Washington Post
By Abby Ohlheiser, Elahe Izadi and Adam Goldman September 26 at 5:01 PM
A man who had just been fired by an Oklahoma City-area food processing plant allegedly severed the head of one of his former co-workers and attacked another before being shot by the company’s chief operating officer, according to police.
The suspect — 30-year-old Alton Nolen — walked into the front office of the Vaughan Foods processing plant in Moore after his firing Thursday and attacked employee Colleen Hufford, Moore Police Sgt. Jeremy Lewis said in a statement.
Nolen attacked Hufford with a knife and severed her head, the statement said. “Yes, she was beheaded,” Lewis confirmed to the Associated Press.
Nolen was attacking a second woman at the plant — 43-year-old Traci Johnson — when, Lewis said, he was shot by Mark Vaughan, a top executive at Vaughan Foods who is also an Oklahoma County sheriff’s reserve deputy.
“This was not going to stop if he didn’t stop it,” Lewis said Friday. “It could have gotten a lot worse.”
Nolen was hospitalized and police are waiting until he is conscious to arrest him, according to the AP. Lewis did not know what charges would be filed, the AP reported.
Alton Nolen in a picture from the Oklahoma Department of Corrections taken Oct. 18, 2011. (Oklahoma Department of Corrections via Reuters)
According to the police statement, after interviewing Nolen’s former co-workers, “information was obtained that he recently started trying to convert several employees to the Muslim religion.”
“Due to the manner of death and the initial statements of co-workers and other initial information, the Moore Police Department requested the assistance of the FBI in conducting a background investigation.”
Two federal law enforcement officials told The Post that Nolen is a recent convert to Islam. One of the officials called Nolen’s Facebook page “provocative,” saying it included a photo of Osama bin Laden.
The FBI is assisting in the investigation and has so far found no links to terrorism, the officials said.
According to Oklahoma Department of Corrections records, Nolen has multiple tattoos that appear to be religious in nature, including an abdominal tattoo of an Arabic greeting that translates to “peace be with you.” The suspect also has a tattoo across his chest pertaining to “Jesus Christ,” and a “praying hands” arm tattoo.
Nolen was convicted in 2011 on drug charges and for assaulting a police officer. When Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper Betsy Randolph attempted to arrest him on outstanding warrants during a 2010 traffic stop, Nolen escaped and fled into the woods, News OK reported.
His escape from detention led to a 12-hour manhunt, until he was eventually captured. Nolen spent two years in the Oklahoma prison system, according to Department of Corrections records.
Lewis said Nolen “became angry” after his firing and went to the Vaughan Foods parking lot, then drove to the front of the business, where he hit another vehicle. Nolen, Lewis said, then entered the building, where he encountered Hufford and allegedly attacked her.
Lewis said he didn’t know why Nolen was fired, according to the AP, and a statement from Vaughan Foods made no direct mention of Nolen.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of the team member we lost and all those affected,” company spokeswoman Danielle Katcher said in the statement. “Our focus is on the safety and well-being of our employees. We will provide counseling and support for our team members and support each other through this difficult time.”
The knife used in the attack, Lewis said, was the same kind used by workers at the plant, according to NBC affiliate KFOR.
In a statement, Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel called Vaughan a “hero,” saying: “There is every reason to believe that the lives of untold others were saved who would have been targeted by the suspect if it hadn’t been for Deputy Vaughan’s actions.”
[This post has been updated.]