Ten years later, Buckhead massacre resounds

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Ten years later, Buckhead massacre resounds

Kathy Van Camp lives a continent and an ocean away from Atlanta. Just a block from Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, Hawaii, she enjoys the tropical warmth while listening to waves she will never see.

Brent Doonan is back home in Wichita, Kan., having left behind his ambition of taming the stock market from his Buckhead office for a more stable job in his family’s trucking business.

Nell Jones has stayed in town. Semi-retired from real estate law, she finds peace in the labor that gardening demands.

Van Camp, Doonan and Jones were three of the two dozen amateur stock traders gathered at the offices of All-Tech Investment group just after 3 p.m. on July 29, 1999, when one of their colleagues walked in and changed their lives forever.

“I hope I’m not upsetting your trading day,” Mark O. Barton calmly told his day-trading comrades 10 years ago this week. He then opened fire at anyone unlucky enough to be there. Minutes earlier, Barton had done the same thing across Piedmont Road at Momentum Securities, another firm where he had traded, and lost, hundreds of thousands of dollars.

When the massacre was over, nine people in the two Buckhead offices lay dead in Georgia’s worst mass murder. Thirteen other people writhed in pain from wounds.

Van Camp and Doonan were among the latter. Shot point blank in the face, Van Camp would lose her sight, along with much of her senses of taste and smell. Doonan, hit five times, managed to stumble to safety as Barton made his way through the All-Tech office firing two pistols. Jones escaped uninjured after Barton, standing just a few feet away, somehow missed hitting her.

The three All-Tech survivors interviewed by the AJC have all moved on. The frenzied day-trading world they inhabited has all but vanished. Though connected by tragedy, most were strangers even as they worked side-by-side and have not kept up with each other.

For many, gratitude for survival is mixed with bitter humor, lingering anger and loss. For Jones, now 63, why she lived through that day when so many others didn’t is still a mystery that nags at her, one she still puzzles over.

“I can’t let go of an illusion [that] Mark Barton did not really want to kill me,” she said. “My illusion is I am special. The truth is he had no reason to favor me.”

A different time

The two dozen traders at All-Tech that day were part of a modern-day gold rush where both fortune and financial ruin were just a mouse click away. The group was an amalgam of professions — cab-driver, pilot, home builder — as well as a veritable United Nations that included natives of Iran, Ukraine, India, Germany, Trinidad and Korea.

Personal computers and loosened regulations had democratized the once-closed world of stock trading, creating a volatile and emotional financial game. It was a bullish time when initial public offerings of dot-com stocks routinely skyrocketed to one-day gains of 500 percent. No one with a little money to invest, it seemed, wanted to be left behind.

High-speed computer connections were still relatively rare, so fledgling investors came to firms such as All-Tech to open accounts and get access to the tools to win or lose money.

“It was times like we hadn’t seen prior to then — or since then,” said Doonan, who had come to Atlanta from Wichita with a buddy, Scott Manspeaker, to run the office. “It was gripping the country.”

About 25 regulars came to All-Tech each day. They were friendly, but not necessarily friends. Each was focused on his own screen, investing his own money, but also often betting on margins — using borrowed money they hoped would quickly fuel their ambitions. Among them was a 44-year-old scientist named Mark Barton.

A bloody afternoon

Barton was a chemist by trade, a schemer by nature, and an effusive character the other traders nicknamed “The Rocket” because he was so explosive when his trading bets paid off.

Much of the money invested came from an insurance settlement after his first wife, Debra, and mother-in-law, Eloise Spivey, were hacked to death at an Alabama camping ground in 1993. Barton was the chief suspect in the case, but was never arrested.

Barton remarried and later threw himself into day trading. But he spent his short career chasing losses. He burned through more than $500,000 and his second marriage before coming to an evil reckoning: In the two days before the shootings, he killed his wife and his two children with a hammer.

“I don’t plan to live very much longer,” he said in a note left at his apartment before setting out for Buckhead. “Just long enough to kill as many of the people that greedily sought my destruction.”

On that sweltering afternoon, Barton first entered the Momentum Securities office, killing four and leaving four injured. He then crossed the street to All-Tech, where he coaxed office managers Doonan and Manspeaker into a private office with Van Camp, their assistant.

“I’ve got something you’re going to want to see,” Barton said. He then pulled two pistols from his waistband and started shooting.

Van Camp, hit by a hollow-point bullet behind her eyes, was instantly blinded. Manspeaker was hit in the gut and the arm but survived. Jones, at a computer 10 feet outside the office, heard the shots, then saw Barton enter the trading room. She thinks she smiled at him. He fired at her and missed, the bullet whizzing past her nose. She darted out the door.

While Barton continued through the office, firing with uncanny accuracy, Doonan, who’d been shot five times, stumbled onto a freight elevator and escaped. Jones, hiding in a broom closet nearby, heard a shot outside. When she emerged after the shooting stopped, she nearly tripped over the body of another woman.

In all, at both offices, Barton had fired 39 times, hitting 22 people. After leaving All-Tech, he slipped through the phalanx of police converging on the area. For four hours, Atlantans fretted as a madman roamed loose. Cornered by police in Cobb County that night, he killed himself.

A lasting image

When paramedics reached her that day, the severely wounded Van Camp used humor to ease the situation. “I’m not looking my best,” she told them.

Ten years later, humor still deflects anger and a gnawing void. Now 48, Van Camp has endured 15 surgeries to repair her damaged face. “I don’t scare small children,” she says.

In 2003, she and her husband moved to Eugene, Ore. More recently, they moved to Hawaii “because I was too cold.” She often sits seaside with her husband, who describes as best he can surfers getting thrown from their boards.

Losing her sight has meant losing her independence. Unless she has a guide, she says, she usually remains in her apartment. “Many blind people are independent, they can get on public transportation,” Van Camp said. “I couldn’t get the hang of it.”

Her world has become a tapestry of fading memories. “I’m forgetting more and more what the world used to look like,” she said. “It’s like a picture you saw 10 years ago.

“Unfortunately, the last thing I saw was Mark Barton’s face.”

Focused on survival

Doonan, who arrived at All-Tech as an ambitious 20-something, thinks Barton’s bullets helped hasten the end of the day-trading business. The shooting, he believes, “crushed the industry. It was [seen as] the actions of a day trader that drove him to this.”

Both All-Tech and Momentum were sued by several of Barton’s victims. They argued that he should have been better screened by the firms. The suits were dismissed.

“If this was foreseeable, I wouldn’t have been there standing there talking to Barton when he shot me,” said Doonan.

He returned to work within two months to show he hadn’t been affected, but got nauseous nearly every time he entered the trading room. He returned to Wichita in 2001.

Within a few years of the massacre, day-trading centers had become relics. Doonan sold his stake in the All-Tech franchise to his partner, Manspeaker, who would also quit and return to Wichita. The two don’t see each other much anymore. All-Tech has seemingly dissolved; no one involved with the case seems to know just when or how.

Doonan said he still invests, but mostly with index funds. “Very much vanilla,” is how he describes his current strategy.

Doonan, Jones and Van Camp all considered writing memoirs to sort through what happened. Jones quit because she didn’t want to dwell there; Van Camp because she didn’t want bare intimate feelings. But Doonan, now 35, took a year off and poured himself into the project.

“You have two options,” he said. “Be a victim and let it control your life, or be a survivor and talk about it.” The final product was “Murder at the Office: A Survivor’s True Story.” Sales weren’t great, but he feels the effort was worth it. “I wanted to show you could go through a day or week from hell and come back.”

Six months after the shooting, Doonan was set up on a blind date. The date led to marriage, and to a son, Jaxson, who is 5. The kid’s a pretty good golfer, said Doonan, who looks forward to all the school, coaching and father-son moments that life has afforded him.

Survival is also a theme with Jones. She too, returned to trading soon after to prove to herself that Barton hadn’t won. But after losing money, she went back to real estate law.

Despite her uncertainty about just why she was spared, she said the shootings “reminded me how small and insignificant we all are on the big scale.

“There is all this mythology to inspire us. But above all, it’s survival.”

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