Less than a week after Tony DeFrances learned that he was being demoted as part of a downsizing of his company, authorities said he walked into his boss’s office Thursday morning for a one-on-one.
Apparently upset about his demotion, DeFrances, armed with a gun, confronted CEO Steven LaVoie, a longtime colleague and friend at the supply technology firm ArrowStream in the Loop, police said.
At some point, DeFrances, 60, and LaVoie, 54, struggled over the gun. LaVoie was shot twice before DeFrances shot himself in the head, Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said.
DeFrances was found dead in LaVoie’s office on the 17th floor of the Bank of America building. LaVoie was in “grave” condition at Northwestern Hospital with head and stomach wounds, McCarthy said after the shooting. He was critical condition this evening, according to a hospital spokeswoman.
DeFrances — who is listed on the company’s website as the chief technology officer — had been told on Friday that he was being demoted, according to police. The firm was in the process of downsizing and had demoted a number of people, McCarthy said.
“Apparently he was despondent over the fact that he got demoted,” McCarthy said of DeFrances, calling the shooting a “personal” dispute.
LaVoie founded ArrowStream in 2000, and DeFrances had been with the firm “virtually since its inception,” according to the company’s website. ArrowStream was named one of Chicago’s best and brightest companies to work for by a business trade group earlier this year, an honor it had received every year since at least 2012.
About 10 witnesses who were in the firm’s office on LaSalle Street when the shooting occurred were interviewed by police, McCarthy said. Witnesses said they heard the shots about 9:55 a.m.
‘Never had any problems’
LaVoie and DeFrances were longtime friends, according to a police source with knowledge of the investigation into the shooting.
“They had been friends for years — a congenial relationship between two friends,” the source said.
LaVoie is married and has three daughters. He was in critical condition and being treated at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, police said. His wife, reached by phone, said she was not ready to talk with the press.
The LaVoie family, in a statement distributed by Northwestern Memorial Hospital, thanked doctors and police for their help and friends and family for support.
“Our thoughts are also with Steven's extended family, the employees of ArrowStream, who mean so much to Steven,” the statement said. “Finally, our prayers are with the other family affected by this tragedy.”
A woman at LaVoie’s home who described herself as “a caretaker and close family friend” said LaVoie’s wife was with him at the hospital.
“He is a wonderful man. He is a private man,” said the woman, who declined to give her name.
A next door neighbor cried as she talked about the shooting. “He is a great guy. He is a very nice man. I can’t fathom this right now.”
DeFrances, who lives in the Lake County community of Tower Lakes, is also married and has three children. Reached by phone Thursday morning, DeFrances’ wife said she did not know about her husband’s alleged involvement in the shooting and expressed shock, but did not comment further. By the afternoon, police stationed outside the DeFrances home said the family had asked for privacy.
Residents in the small wooded community described DeFrances and his family as polite and quiet.
“We’ve never had any problems with them,” said Patricia Covek, who lives a few doors down and saw DeFrances at regular neighborhood gatherings, including about six weeks ago. “This is just very upsetting. My heart goes out to these people.”
They are a “wonderful family,” said another neighbor, Pati Schaefer. “We’re all heartbroken.”
Tower Lakes police Chief Samuel Sinacore said he was not aware of his department ever being called to the DeFrances home, except when the family requested that their house be checked while they were on vacation.
Loop workers rattled
The shooting rattled workers in the financial district of the Loop, an area that is typically far removed from gun violence that plagues other parts of the city.
A SWAT team arrived on the scene within minutes of the shooting but the building was not evacuated. Dozens of people stood and stared as police secured the building and a helicopter hovered overhead.
Neil Machchhar works on the 14th floor of the Bank of America building in the technology department of Advantage Futures. He said he didn't hear any shots but received several texts and phone calls alerting him. About five minutes later, he heard a voice on the loudspeaker announcing an intruder and telling them to stay put.
“The person on the PA system sounded shaky too,” Machchhar said.
Employees in the building say they weren't evacuated from the building, and instead received an email informing them of the shooting and that they should remain on their floors and at their desks. Other employees said they weren't aware of the situation until they left the building and saw dozens of police vehicles and an ambulance.
McCarthy, speaking with reporters outside the building as police were investigating the shooting, said the incident was a case of “workplace violence” but not a security issue.
“He’s apparently a longtime employee, he comes in with a backpack like an employee normally does,” McCarthy said of DeFrances. “I can’t see how this could have been a security issue. This is basically a personal thing.”
Police recovered a 9-milimeter semi-automatic pistol at the scene, according to a source. It was unclear if the gun belonged to DeFrances, who does not have a firearm owner’s identification card, according to the Illinois State Police.
ArrowStream released a statement saying that the company was “deeply saddened and shocked” by the shooting.
“Our focus during this tragedy is to ensure the well being of our ArrowStream family,” the statement said. “We want to assure our customers that our business continuity plan is in place, and our operations will continue to function normally. We appreciate the concern and care expressed by so many.”
Tribune reporters Deanese Williams-Harris, Kim Geiger, Jeremy Gorner, Michelle Manchir, Adam Sege and freelancer Joseph Ruzich contributed.