An unbelievable tragedy befell two HVAC technicians on April 7, who were shot during a service call in Rock Hill, South Carolina. The gunman then went into the house and murdered all four members of the family, then killed himself a short time later. One of the techs, James Lewis, was pronounced dead at the scene, while the other, Robert Shook, passed away three days after. They left behind six children between them.
Now the HVAC industry is rallying to the aid of those families, donating tens of thousands of dollars. The money poured in from manufacturers, from related businesses, and from HVAC contractors and technicians across the country.
“In the midst of an incomprehensible circumstance, the outpouring of response has been overwhelming from across the entire industry,” said Steven Long, co-owner of GSM Services, the Gastonia, North Carolina, firm the technicians worked for.
Money has come from nearby firms who compete with GSM Services for business. It has also come from HVAC contractors on the other side of the country. Long and his brother/co-owner, Joel, are active in national industry organizations, so they know a lot of contractors. But many of the donations came from people they never met.
An HVAC contractor in Tacoma, Washington, almost 3,000 miles away, made a donation via GoFundMe. The contractor wrote, “My heart is broken. I can't believe this happened in general and that it happened in our industry. My condolences to the families involved. GSM, stay strong. We have your back. No matter how far away we are, we are thinking of you all and I hope you can all make it out of this okay. Take your time to grieve and stay strong.”
Customers Remember Tireless Technicians
The goal was to raise $50,000 from GoFundMe. By April 16, more than $325,000 had been donated via the site. Others have contributed directly to GSM services. Long said people have been coming in to their offices to drop off money or giving it to technicians when they make service calls.
The amount of money donated by customers has been impressive. One customer wrote on the GoFundMe site that James Lewis worked tirelessly to repair her unit, always saying, “Let me try just one more thing.” The customer added, “He became a friend and a true American who believed in hard work and the ultimate customer satisfaction and service. I will never adjust our thermostat without a memory of James. I thank you, GSM, for hiring someone of such quality and allowing him to become a part of our lives.”
That’s the type of people Lewis and Shook were, Long said.
“We do have a lot of customers who request certain technicians,” he said. “James and Robert both had a lot of customers who weren’t just GSM customers. They were their customers.”
Each had been with the company for more than eight years. They were both 38 years old with three children each. All the children are younger than 19.
“They were good, dedicated family men who served their customers and their community very well,” Long said.
Service Manager Called 9-1-1
GSM Services has been around for nearly 100 years. Long said the company, especially the service department, is very tight-knit. That makes what happened even more difficult. Long said he and his brother have brought in a grief counseling service from their church to help employees get through this difficult time.
After the two technicians were shot, Shook called service manager Mark Benton on his cell phone. Shook was unable to speak or think clearly, so Benton called 9-1-1. In a recording of that call, he calmly describes the situation to the operator, saying one of his technicians had just called screaming that he had been shot and that the other technician was also shot and not responsive. Benton went on to provide details about the location and the people at the home.
Long commended how the service manager handled the situation. He said Benton has been with the company for more than 20 years and served in the military before that, and he always keeps a cool head.
Now it’s a matter of moving forward. Long said money will never replace the two lives lost, but the willingness of so many people to give, in amounts ranging from $3.60 to $15,000, provides some light in a dark time.
“It does give you some hope for the world,” Long said.
For those interested in making a donation, the GoFundMe site is www.gofundme.com/f/lewisshook.