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Former co-worker recalls shooter, victim in Loop office tragedy

Chicago Police scene 2 shot 231 S. LaSalle. Thursday July 31 2014 | Brian Jackson/Sun-Times

Chicago Police on the scene of 2 shot at 231 S. LaSalle. Thursday, July 31, 2014 | Brian Jackson/Sun-Times

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Updated: September 3, 2014 6:09AM

A former co-worker of both the shooter and victim in a Loop office shooting was left stunned and disbelieving at news of Thursday’s tragedy.

“How this tragedy could have occurred is beyond comprehension for me,” Peter Benda said in an email to the Sun-Times.

Benda was one of the original co-founders of ArrowStream, the company whose CEO, Steven LaVoie, remained in critical condition Friday morning at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

Police say LaVoie was shot by Tony DeFrances, who had been recently demoted in a company downsizing. DeFrances then killed himself, police say.

In his email, Benda said LaVoie “was the man with the vision and strategy for Arrowstream.”

DeFrances was the company’s first executive hire.

“Tony brought the experience, expertise, and energy that were needed to launch the technical platform for our business model. Arrowstream was lucky to have a team of such brilliant people building the business,” Benda wrote.

After helping to found the company in 2000, Benda left in 2002 — on good terms, he says, to pursue other interests.

“As top executives of Arrowstream, Steve and Tony were outstanding individuals, demonstrating the highest caliber, collegiality, professionalism, and commitment to the firm for the last 14 years. Both gave their all to the company, and did so with a sense of humor and compassion. They, and all of us, had excellent working relationships,” Benda wrote.

“Tony will be missed greatly, and I hope with all my heart that Steve has a full recovery. My prayers and condolences go out to both the LaVoie and the DeFrances families, and to the employees of Arrowstream.”

Benda went on to help start other companies — PortReal, which is designed to help private investors manage risk related to real estate; and Nanofoundry, a technology spinoff from Virginia Commonwealth University.

The shooting occurred in the ArrowStream offices on the 17th floor of the Bank of America building, 231 S. LaSalle St. They were meeting in LaVoie’s office when coworkers outside heard shouts and three or four gunshots.

Moments later, an employee found them. DeFrances, 60, shot LaVoie, 54, in the stomach and head before turning the gun on himself, police said.

LaVoie, a father of three who lives in west suburban La Grange, was taken to the hospital. DeFrances, also a father of three, lived in far northwest suburban Tower Lakes. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

ArrowStream — a firm that sells supply-chain management technology to large restaurants like Wendy’s and Applebee’s — was downsizing, and DeFrances was demoted Friday from his position as chief technology officer, police said.

“Apparently, he was despondent over the fact that he got demoted,” Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said.

LaVoie started the company out of his home while living in Wicker Park. Before joining ArrowStream, DeFrances founded a successful software company, according to the ArrowStream website.

LaVoie, a wine connoisseur, shared a bottle of white wine with DeFrances at a Loop restaurant several months ago, according to a restaurant source.

The gun DeFrances used was a semi-automatic pistol, said Tom Ahern, spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. He noted that tracking the history of the weapon is an agency priority to find out “how it ended up in the hands of the shooter.”

State Police spokeswoman Monique Bond said DeFrances did not have a license to own a gun in Illinois.

McCarthy said DeFrances wore a backpack when he entered the company office to meet with LaVoie.

“It’s an isolated workplace incident based upon a demotion from a downsizing of a corporation,” McCarthy said. “He’s apparently a longtime employee who comes in with a backpack like an employee normally does . . . I can’t see how this could have been a security issue,” said McCarthy, who noted he wasn’t aware of any previous threats.

ArrowStream was named in a business trade group as one of the Chicago’s best and brightest companies to work for the past three years.

A statement from the LaVoie family said: “A horrific personal tragedy has happened today to two families. The family of Steven LaVoie would like to thank the staff and doctors at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and Chicago law enforcement personnel for their ongoing and tireless efforts on behalf of Steven. Thank you to our family and friends for your outpouring of love and support. Our thoughts are also with Steven’s extended family, the employees of ArrowStream, who mean so much to Steven. Finally, our prayers are with the other family affected by this tragedy.”

DeFrances lived on a cul-de-sac in the Lake County community of Tower Lakes, a town of about 1,300 people. The block is lined by spacious homes and covered in trees. No one answered the door Thursday afternoon at the DeFrances residence.

“They’re wonderful people that have been here a long time, and Tower Lakes is a very close-knit community. ... So it’s very tragic,” said Pati Schaefer, who lives about a block from the DeFrances home.

She said DeFrances and his wife raised three children — a daughter and two sons — in the community.

“They’re a wonderful family, and we’re heartbroken,” Schaefer said. DeFrances was often seen walking around the block and was well-known in the neighborhood, she said.

Pete Rocha, a former ArrowStream employee, called LaVoie an “extremely charismatic individual” who took on the status quo in their industry with a revolutionary mind-set. He said LaVoie cares, on a personal level, about all of his employees.

Rocha called DeFrances a “very cheery guy” who could “clear the air with a funny remark.”

Fred Hoch, the CEO of the Illinois Technology Association and a friend of LaVoie, said the ArrowStream CEO is one of the happiest people he’s ever met. “He is always intensely happy. Driven to do things but happy about it.”

A statement from ArrowStream read:“We are deeply saddened and shocked by the events that have occurred today. Our focus during this tragedy is to ensure the well-being of our ArrowStream family. We want to assure our customers that our business continuity plan is in place, and our operations will continue to function normally. We appreciate the concern and care expressed by so many.”

Contributing: Jon Seidel, Becky Schlikerman, Jordan Owen, Tina Sfondeles, LeeAnn Shelton and Mitch Dudek

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