AT 2:57 P.M. ON THURSDAY, JULY 1, 1993, a nondescript man stepped off an elevator on the 34th floor of 101 California St., a sleek, granite high-rise in downtown San Francisco, and entered the plush law offices of Pettit & Martin. Dressed in a dark business suit and carrying a black attaché case, he might have passed for an attorney returning from a late lunch.
He set his case down and from beneath his jacket pulled out three semiautomatic pistols, which he came prepared to reload with hundreds of rounds of ammunition. He calmly walked 60 feet toward a glass-walled conference room where lawyers were deposing a witness in a labor dispute, and opened fire.
The plate glass shattered. Two people—the plaintiff in the case and her lawyer—were killed instantly; two others were wounded, one shot in the arm as she dove for cover behind a chair. Heading around the perimeter of the office, the gunman blasted through the glass wall of a Pettit partner's office, killing him. As the shooting spree continued, people scurried behind doors and desks and ran for exits. Someone pulled a fire alarm, which caused some people to believe that all the commotion was just a drill. As SWAT teams arrived, and the address system repeatedly warned people to lock their doors and stay inside, the gunman moved down the stairwell to other floors occupied by Pettit.
Only later would all the pieces be put together: the newly married 28-year-old surfer-turned-lawyer shot to death shielding his wife, the San Francisco Fire Department chaplain administering last rites to the dying. About 15 minutes after he started shooting, as he was descending to the 29th floor, the gunman encountered cops coming up the stairs. He pointed a pistol at his chin and pulled the trigger.
Gian Luigi Ferri was a loner, a would-be real estate tycoon who'd had limited dealings with Pettit & Martin on a botched deal years earlier and irrationally blamed the firm for his subsequent failures. He'd been harboring his rage for more than a decade, railing in a letter found on his body against a "List of Criminals, Rapists, Racketeers, Lobbyists," including Pettit lawyers. In all, Ferri killed eight people and wounded six in what a police official called "the worst mass homicide tragedy in San Francisco's history."