Like others in the Roundy’s family, Neal Semb is stunned and heartbroken.
Two of his coworkers are gone, taken way too soon in the workplace tragedy at Roundy’s Distribution Center in Oconomowoc.
Semb knew the victims, Kevin Kloth, 51, of Germantown, and Kevin Schneider, 39, of Milwaukee, who were both killed late Tuesday night.
They were guys he used to see as the shifts changed. They knew each other for more than 20 years on the job.
“I work 5:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.,” Semb said Thursday. “The two Kevins worked nights. They would be there in the morning when I got there.”
Like Semb, Kloth and Schneider were veteran employees. That’s what makes this tragedy all the more devastating, the sense of deep personal loss.
The victims’ families are understandably grieving in private, shouldering painful and sudden loss.
The workers are also in mourning. But they have a job to do, as the warehouse, a vital link in Roundy’s operation, reopened Thursday.
Semb said Schneider, was “funny, friendly, nice, genuine, genuine people.”
He said Kloth was “a great guy. Same thing. He was hilarious.”
Semb recalled that in recent years Schneider grew to love the outdoors. They went hunting several times in Adams County.
He’s still trying to process their deaths, come to grips with the tragedy.
Semb also knew the gunman, Fraron Cornelius, who worked 23 years at the facility. Police said Cornelius died by suicide early Wednesday after crashing his car in Milwaukee.
“I never knew there was any animosity between those three,” he said. “Actually, all three of them were really good guys.”
Semb recalled seeing Cornelius Tuesday at work in the sprawling warehouse.
“He drove right by me,” he said. “Never even looked at me, which is odd to me.”
Thomas Bennett, secretary-treasurer for General Teamsters Local Union No. 200, sought to support his union members through the darkest of times.
“They were just normal working people, trying to make a living,” Bennett said of Kloth and Schneider.
Bennett said Schneider was a “very smart man” who had a wide circle of friends at the warehouse and liked to talk about politics.
“We could have open debate with each other and challenge our wits,” he said.
Schneider liked striking up conversations with coworkers and was dedicated to his beliefs but “would hear you out” in discussions, Bennett said.
“He had a whole future in front of him,” he said.
A leader on the sanitation team, Schneider made sure the warehouse was clean, according to Bennett.
Schneider was good at motivating workers and shared a special bond with a group of friends that always ate lunch together, Bennett said.
“You build relationships at work, and some of his best friends, his closest friends, are really struggling right now,” he said.
Bennett did not know much about Kloth, the second victim, or Cornelius, the suspect in the shootings.
“Kevin (Kloth) was just one of the guys that wanted to come to work, just do his job, punch in, punch out,” Bennett said.
And Cornelius was respectful and got along with his coworkers, Bennett said.
Already putting in long days
Employees are wondering how the tragedy could have happened in their workplace, Bennett said.
Some were nervous about returning to work and have questioned whether they should reconsider their safety at the warehouse, while others were grateful to process their grief with coworkers they sometimes see more than their own families, Bennett said.
With the surge in grocery sales during the pandemic, Roundy’s asked employees to work as many hours as they wanted. Some worked 18-hour days if they felt they could handle it, Bennett said.
Roundy’s, through its Pick ‘n Save and Metro Market store banners, is the grocery market share leader in Wisconsin and employs more than 12,000 people in the Badger State.
There is a Pick ‘n Save or Metro Market in all of the largest cities in the state, including Milwaukee and its suburbs, Green Bay, Appleton, Oshkosh, Wausau, Fond du Lac, Madison, Stevens Point, Manitowoc, Sheboygan, Wisconsin Rapids and Marshfield. Communities counted on the company during the pandemic.
“It’s a hard balance because here you are taking care of families you’ll never meet, but yet I got a family back at home I’ve got to take care of,” he said.
The long days and stress of the pandemic meant workers leaned on each other for support.
The shooting adds to the emotional burden employees were already shouldering. Recently, Bennett said, three other warehouse workers died from medical conditions.
“We’re just getting over that hurdle of those people that just passed away, grieving those people, and now we start a whole new process,” he said.
The employees who first found the victims with gunshot wounds are “really struggling,” he said.
“Not only was it a horrifying event that unfolded, these were their coworkers, people they ate lunch with, shared bathrooms with, shared locker rooms with, shared courtesies with,” he said.
“So I think they’re looking back now and saying, could I have done something different? What was my last conversation with that person?”
Roundy’s is offering grief counseling to those who need it, Bennett said.
Hannah Kirby and Evan Casey, of the Journal Sentinel, contributed to this report.