Yesterday’s Crimes: Death Takes the Elevator at 101 California

A 1993 mass shooting in S.F. led to a temporary ban on semi-automatic weapons.

High up on the 34th floor in the glimmering, glass tower at 101 California St., law firm Pettit and Martin seemed more imposing than it actually was. While it was still one of San Francisco’s largest law offices, the economic downturn of the early 1990s had hit it particularly hard. But just as business was starting to look up, death came to Pettit and Martin.

Death rode the elevator up to the 34th floor in the form of Gianluigi Ferri, a stocky, middle-aged man filled with blind rage and white hot hate. In his pocket, he carried a four-page hit list combined with a badly spelled, all-caps screed about corporate rape and MSG poisoning, at a time before there was a Reddit to post it on. He also brought along two Tec-9 semiautomatic submachine guns, a .45, and a black attaché case weighted heavily with ammo.

Bankruptcy attorney Sharon O’Grady spotted Ferri shortly after he got off the elevator. Just as she started squinting at him to see if he belonged there, he fired his Tec-9s into a glass-walled conference room, spraying bullets and glass everywhere.

Attorney Jack Berman and his client Jody Jones Sposato were killed, during a deposition in a sex discrimination case. Court reporter Deanna Eaves dove under the conference room table to avoid Ferri’s gunfire, which came in six shot bursts. She was shot twice but lived.

Ferri turned from the conference room and shot into an office, killing labor law attorney Allen J. Berk, who had just returned from a Scandinavian vacation. Litigation specialist Brian Berger, who was meeting with Berk at the time, was wounded.

Moments later, Ferri made his way down an internal staircase and opened fire on John and Michelle Scully. The young attorneys met at Gonzaga University in Washington, got married, and moved to San Francisco. Both studied law at the University of San Francisco before joining Pettit. John, a laid back guy from Hawaii, died shielding Michelle with his body. Michelle still took bullets to the chest and shoulder but survived.

As Ferri fired round and after round, an announcement was made over the building’s rarely used sound system telling people in the building to lock their doors and stay in place. Lawyers at the law firm of Boyd and McKay on the 40th floor shoved a couch in front of their office doors, but workers at the Merrill Lynch offices on the 24th floor worked in cubicles, with no doors to lock.

Ferri descended to the 33rd floor and then the 31st, shooting more people along the way. After being met by the SWAT team on his way down to the 29th floor, Ferri puts his .45 to his chin and killed himself, rather than shoot it out.

By the end of the killing spree, Ferri had murdered eight people and wounded six others. While Ferri named Pettit and Martin in his note, none of his actual victims were on his list, and Berman and Sposato didn’t even work for the firm. Pettit and Martin represented Ferri with an Indiana land deal that later went bad after the firm was already out of the picture. But by the time of the attack, the firm hadn’t heard from Ferri since 1982.

Following the massacre, Senator Diane Feinstein, who had become mayor of San Francisco after the shooting of George Moscone, authored the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, prohibiting the sale of semi-automatic weapons like the Tec-9s used at 101 California. President Bill Clinton signed the bill into law on Sept. 14, 1994 after it survived a razor-thin vote in the Senate.

The Federal Assault Weapons Ban expired in 2004 despite Feinstein’s attempts to renew the bill. Feinstein introduced a new assault weapons ban in 2013, following the elementary school shooting in Sandy Hook, CT, but that bill went down in the Senate 60-40 with 15 Democrats voting against it. Many of them were still defeated by Republicans in their subsequent reelection bids anyway. 

Pettit and Martin was dissolved in March 1995.
“The tragedy did not cause the problems of the firm, but it certainly made getting over them somewhat more difficult,” firm chairman Theodore Russell said during a press conference announcing the closure. “There was a certain sadness that prevailed for a long time.”



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