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Phoenix office shooting: Suspect still at large

6:32 AM, Jan 31, 2013   |    comments
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At 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, two Arizona businessmen and an attorney were scheduled to sit down in a north-central Phoenix law office for a settlement conference in a long-running financial dispute.

An hour later, one of the men lay dead just outside the entrance of the office building. Nearby, his attorney lay wounded.

And the man who had faced off with them in mediation - 70-year-old Arthur Douglas Harmon - had fled in a rented car, police said, leaving in his wake a spray of bullets, a crime scene that shut down busy North 16th Street for the rest of the day and a manhunt that kept the Valley on edge as it continued into the night.

Police said Harmon, who may be driving a white Kia Optima, license plate AVS2052, should be considered armed and dangerous.

Shooting victims were identified as:

Steven D. Singer, 48, chief executive officer at a call center and defendant in a lawsuit filed by Harmon over furniture that was refurbished by Harmon's company, Reback Design. Singer, a husband and father of two, died from his injuries.

Mark Hummels, 43, an attorney who represented Singer and serves as Phoenix chapter president of the Federal Bar Association, suffered serious neck and back wounds. He underwent surgery, and association colleague Andrea Marconi reported that doctors are optimistic about his recovery.

Nichole Hampton, 32, of Waddell, who had gone outside to take pictures and was caught in gunfire near the building entrance. She is hospitalized with a wound to her hand.

Police said a shot was fired at a fourth victim who pursued the shooter from the scene, but the person was uninjured. Two other people also were taken from the scene to a hospital with unspecified medical issues related to the shooting.

The shooting occurred in the lobby of a broad, three-story building at 7310 N. 16th St., just north of the Arizona Canal, near the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort. The complex houses about a dozen companies doing business in real estate, insurance, medical care and other commerce. As shots rang through the courtyard, terrified workers reported locking doors and hiding until police swarmed the area.

"Everyone was scared, honestly, just scared," said Navika Sood, assistant director of nursing at Firstat Home Health Services.

"I looked out the window, in the back, and there were two bodies laying on the ground," said Rob Hayter, who works for a title company in the complex. Hayter said he heard five or six shots and saw a handful of bullet casings on the ground near the victims.

The shooting occurred as Congress was conducting hearings in Washington on laws proposed to address firearm violence - particularly mass killings. Among those advocating stricter gun laws was former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, wounded two years ago in a mass shooting near Tucson that left six dead and 13 others injured.

Giffords' husband, Mark Kelly, announced the Phoenix incident to a Senate panel just minutes after it occurred.

Sgt. Tommy Thompson of the Phoenix Police Department said the episode began about 10:30 a.m. and "does not appear to be a random type of incident."

Police said the shooter targeted the two men.

According to Thompson and other sources, Harmon, Hummels and Singer had attended a mediation proceeding Wednesday morning at the offices of DeConcini, McDonald, Yetwin & Lacy. Lisa Anne Davis, managing partner, said one of the firm's lawyers presided over the session as a court-appointed judge pro tem.

Mark Harrison, who works with Hummels at the firm of Osborn Maledon, said he was told the session was interrupted when Harmon announced he needed to go outside to his car. When Harmon failed to return after a prolonged wait, Hummels, Singer and others assumed he was not coming back. They headed downstairs, and as they were leaving, they were shot.

Photographs show shattered glass sprayed across the building's courtyard.

Hampton, who was shot in the hand, is director of human resources at MD Home Health LLC, another business in the complex. In a phone interview from the hospital, Carol Hampton said her daughter got caught in the shooting frenzy.

"She was at the wrong place at the wrong time," Carol said.

Carol said Nichole was outside the building taking pictures for business purposes.

"She started walking to the lobby, and she saw four men come running out, saying, 'He's got a gun.'"

At that instant, Carol said, her daughter heard a shot and saw a window shatter. Nichole, initially unaware that she had been wounded, ran into the nearby office of a business known as Time to Rent.

Carol said an employee locked the door behind her.

"He was very nice," she said. "He took off his shirt and wrapped her hand up."

Carol said Nichole and others looked out a window to see the shooter's white vehicle screech out of the parking lot with its trunk open.

Carol said Nichole was struck in the wrist, and two bones were broken. "She has two metal plates and pins in her hand. She's pretty shook up. But someone died in this, so we feel very lucky."

Nichole is married and has two young children.

Police flooded the area around 16th Street and Glendale Avenue, evacuating nearby offices and searching for a shooter while rescue crews tended to the wounded. Employees looked on, talking quietly among themselves, some crying.

According to court records, Singer had hired Harmon's firm last February to refurbish and move office furniture at the Santa Maria, Calif., offices of his call center, Fusion Contact Center LLC. The contract was for $47,000, but a dispute erupted because not all of the work could be completed. The parties traded lengthy e-mails. In April, after receiving $30,000, court records say, Harmon filed suit.

As the legal case dragged on, court records say, Harmon engaged in financial transactions with a son, Stefan. Legal filings allege that Arthur Harmon sold his home, valued at $100,000, to the son for $26,000, then borrowed $180,000 from another party using the home he no longer owned as collateral. The filings say that money was then loaned to Stefan.

Fusion countersued, alleging that Harmon - who had no legal counsel - was overpaid and fraudulently transferred property in connection with the litigation. The company sought a payment of $20,184 from Harmon to end the case. Harmon testified his savings totaled $17. Mediation proceedings were set up to address continuing issues in the case.

After Wednesday's shooting, police went to the Harmon residence in the 14000 block of North 28th Street. Sgt. Steve Martos said a son refused to allow officers to enter until they obtained a search warrant. Once they did enter, they found no one there.

Police found an item that Harmon discarded, apparently after the shooting, near 43rd Street and Shea Boulevard, not far from his house. Police would not confirm whether the item was a cellphone.

Court records indicate Harmon and his wife, Ivett Huska, have had financial problems previously. In 2005, faced with debts totaling $219,000, they sought bankruptcy protection. Lothar Goernitz, a trustee who became involved, said it was "a fairly mundane case."

Friends and business associates described Steven D. Singer as a family man, mentor and innovator.

His company has offices in Scottsdale with sites in California and Nevada. No one answered the phone Wednesday afternoon at the Scottsdale location.

Singer spent most of his career in call-center management. Clients and co-workers who posted notes on Linkedin.com, a professional-networking website, praised him as a "thoughtful leader, adviser and mentor" and "top expert" in the field.

Jennifer Manning, a family friend, said Singer was a terrific father to two teenage sons and had an idyllic relationship with his wife, Lisa.

"It was like a love story," she said, sobbing. "They loved each other so much. ... It just hit so hard. There's shooting every day, and you don't expect it to be someone you know. He was such a wonderful man. He really, truthfully was."

Hummels also is married with two children.

He graduated first in his law class at the University of Arizona, clerked under Arizona Supreme Court Justice Andrew Hurwitz and earned the highest score on the July 2004 state Bar exam.

A former newspaper reporter, Hummels specializes in business disputes, real-estate litigation and legal malpractice. "He's got a pretty phenomenal resume and a personality to match," said Larry Hammond, a partner at Osborn Maledon, Hummels' firm. "He's just one of the most incredible people."

The Arizona Republic-12 News Breaking News Team

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