MIAMI-Tonight, tomorrow. . . probably for a long time to come, a little girl will wonder why. The grown-ups around her will have no real explanation for why someone would kill her daddy for just doing his job.
At 4 years of age, Nicole Holderbaum is hardly aware of the sometimes cruel ways of the world. All she knows is her daddy is gone. He left for work in a tire warehouse, but he won't be back.
Choosing his words carefully, Buck Burwell, president of Itco Tire Co. Inc., called the shooting of Stacy A. Holderbaum, 35, ``a cowardly, senseless act'' that has left its scar not only on a grieving family, but on a company that had never before been touched by workplace violence.
March 3 began not unlike most other days in Itco's Miami warehouse, where Mr. Holderbaum had been branch manager since last June. He'd been with the company three years. During the course of the morning, amidst the usual hustle of filling orders, he had to discharge a problem employee.
The employee was told to finish out the day, according to prosecuting attorney Andrew Hague, senior division chief with the Dade County state attorney's office.
Returning from lunch still angry, the man went to his work station, got a gun he kept there, confronted Mr. Holderbaum, shot him multiple times, and then, Mr. Hague said, reloaded and fired several more times, killing the manager.
Then the shooter called 911 and confessed his crime, which was witnessed by some half-dozen people.
Police arrested warehouse stockman Hector David Quinones, 58, who also had been dismissed last fall, Mr. Hague said, but had gotten his job back. Held without bond, he was indicted for first degree murder by a county grand jury. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.
Mr. Hague said Mr. Qui¤ones was one of four employees dismissed March 3.
Wilson, N.C.-based Itco-a distributor of tires, custom wheels and automotive aftermarket products to independent retail tire dealers-operates warehouses in six southeastern states. In Florida, besides Miami, it has facilities in Orlando, Tampa and Ft. Myers, and a new one opened in West Palm Beach just three days after the shooting.
The company has not been downsizing, Mr. Burwell said. He declined to comment on the circumstances surrounding the suspect's termination except to say: ``His performance had not been satisfactory.''
``We were shocked and, of course, we were saddened by such a horrible tragedy that made no sense at all,'' he added, vowing that the event will not change how the company does business. ``It's obvious you can't predict senseless violence, and there's no way to prevent it.''
That statement rings tragically true for Pamela Holderbaum, 36, of Boynton Beach, Fla.
``The last time I spoke with my husband was at noon (March 3), and he did indicate to me that (Mr. Qui¤ones) was angry. Stacy was worried for his personal safety.
``But I'm sure he wasn't seriously worried, or he'd have taken some sort of action to prevent this from happening. . . . I'm sure like a lot of people, he felt something so irrational could never happen. Needless to say, they were wrong.''
She recalled being notified about the shooting, and her momentary hope that Stacy had survived-perhaps badly hurt, but still alive. Then she received all the crushing details.
``Fortunately, I'm a very strong person,'' Mrs. Holderbaum said, ``and I've got a very good support network that's helping me out a lot right now.''
As for little Nicole, she's ``doing pretty well,'' her mom said. ``It's helping her that she's the age she is, because it's an age where she doesn't really understand the future. That's insulating her some from the trauma of what this means for her.''
In their time of need, Itco has stepped in to aid the family-and help preserve Nicole's future.
The company took care of funeral expenses, has been ``in touch with me on a regular basis to see how we're doing,'' Mrs. Holderbaum said, and also is ``assisting us with the expenses related to therapy, which we both got into right away.''
Itco also established the ``Stacy Holderbaum College Trust Fund'' for Nicole's education.
Mr. Burwell admitted he gave serious thought to closing the Miami warehouse. ``A lot of things go through your mind. . . . I thought about closing it just out of disgust for what happened.''
But ``the tire dealers and customers in that market have prevailed upon us to keep that branch open. They told us Stacy would have wanted it that way, and I believe that's right. . . .''
Closing the branch ``would have put 20 employees there out of work, and our customers would have lost a good supplier. So we're going to tough it out. . . . This was a random, irrational act.''
Mrs. Holderbaum said her husband began his tire industry career some dozen years ago as a sales representative with a Goodyear-owned store in Orlando. From there, he became the Florida sales rep for Armstrong Tire, and, from 1986-89, he operated his own small distribution company, Battery & Tire Inc. He then worked as an outside sales rep for Sunshine Tire Co. in West Palm Beach, before going to Itco.
Close to 600 people attended the March 7 funeral in Palm Beach for the person described by his wife as ``hardworking, a good family man with a great personality.''
``He was very good at human relationships,'' she added, ``which is ironic, in light of what happened.''
``We really miss him,'' Mr. Burwell said.
The taking of Stacy Holderbaum's life, he repeated, ``was the act of a cowardly sociopath.''
How do you explain that to a 4-year-old?
To reach the Stacy Holderbaum College Trust Fund, contact Itco Tire Co., 2708 Commerce Road, Wilson, N.C. 27894.