By Renee Maltezou and Deepa Babington
KOMOTINI, Greece, March 4 (Reuters) - After more than 30 years as a factory worker, Dimitris Manikas was dreaming of retirement and plans to get married for the third time when a redundancy notice blew his hopes away.
Laid off from his job at a trash can factory in this northern Greek town, the 52-year-old father of two called off his wedding — even though he had bought the wedding bands. Without any income, he feared his house would be next to go.
Driven to despair, Manikas on Thursday barged into the factory whose name he had tattoed on his forearm, to turn a hunting rifle on his former boss and another worker, injuring them both. He then held three people hostage, surrendering only after 11 hours of negotiations with police.
Bloodstains are still visible on a potted plant and floor in the green and white building where the drama unfolded.
In his first public comments since being arrested, a tearful Manikas said losing his job pushed him over the edge.
“I was nothing without a job. I was like a dead man walking,” he said by phone, breaking down in sobs.
“I only needed a few more years to retire. Is this a time to be unemployed? And if I looked for a job, the way things are now, the way politicians have done things, what would I get — 400 euros?”
“My life was fine, I was ready to get married for a third time. I had already bought the wedding rings,” he said. “But my world was turned upside down. You can’t do anything without money.”
Manikas is being held at a local police station and is due to appear infront of a magistrate on Monday.
Officials have played down Manikas’ shooting spree as an isolated incident that is unlikely to be repeated, but many Greeks also see it as a cautionary tale of the human toll of an economic crisis that has left over one in five Greeks jobless.
With Greece struggling through its worst post-World War II economic crisis, European partners and the International Monetary Fund have made a painful diet of spending, wage and pension cuts a pre-condition for loans to keep it afloat.
“The way things are going financially, thousands of people could end up in my position,” he said in the interview arranged through his lawyer. “People need to stand up to this — not the way I did — but they need to react.”
He said he showed up that day at the Helesi factory gates because he wanted to ask his former boss, Sakis Andrianopoulos — a man who he had known for decades and who was the best man at his wedding — why he had been fired.
He said he regrets what happened next.
“I didn’t know what I was doing that day, my mind was blurred,” he said. “I’ve already told my lawyer that I’m sorry, I didn’t want things to end this way. I wanted to talk to him and clear things up.”
His former employer — now nursing wounds to the neck and chest in a hospital — is unimpressed. His company, Helesi, says it fired Manikas in August after he displayed erratic and inappropriate behaviour for years.
“There were times that you thought he was a great person and others when he would take everything out on you,” said Andrianopoulos, 51, as he sat on his hospital bed with a bandage around his neck. He denies Manikas was treated unfairly.
“He has taken not only what he was owed but 20 times what he deserved,” said the executive’s wife, Christina Athanassoulia.
Andrianopoulos acknowledges that he has had to lay off staff due to the economic crisis that has hit towns like Komotini hard, but says that was not why Manikas was fired.
“This has nothing to do with the crisis,” he said, agreeing with his wife’s description of Manikas as a “sick man”.
“I narrowly escaped with my life.”
Manikas’ defenders, his lawyer and Anastasia, the woman who he had planned to marry, offer a different version of events.
They paint him as a hard-working man who did not have a history of mental illness but rather, was thrown into depression after losing his job.
A native of Crete, Manikas had been working in odd jobs from a young age to supplement his father’s teacher income, said Anastasia, who declined to give her last name. Manikas said he had been working since he was 13.
He too wanted to become a teacher, but could not afford to go to university, and being short-sighted foiled plans for a military career, she said.
So he settled for a factory job, from where a long association with the family of Andrianopoulos, the man he would ultimately turn a gun on, was to begin.
After years working for Andrianopoulos’ father in law in the Peloponnese town of Aigio, the businessman brought Manikas to Komotini near the Turkish border in 2000 to work in his factory.
His devotion to his job was never in doubt — says Anastasia, pointing to the company name tattoo on his arm.
“It was not just the money, he felt complete,” she said.
When she met Manikas in 2007 at a christening ceremony, Anastasia said she was instantly attracted to his simple and direct manner, and how he came up to her and openly declared his interest in her. By 2010, he asked her to marry him.
Things started turning sour financially for Manikas as they planned their wedding. When he was fired in August last year, he broke up with her on account of his bleak prospects, she said.
Despondent, he began to fret that the house he lived in would be taken away from him.
“He was thinking, who’s going to hire a 52-year old now?” she said. “He didn’t want to see anyone. He wanted to be alone.”
She said she never saw the shooting spree coming — she had seen him just the day before, when he appeared calm. She recalled happier days, of New Year’s Eve parties in Crete and family affairs, when Manikas was far from a man in tatters.
“I asked him ‘When were you really happy in your life?’ And he said ‘Two years ago — when I had a job, steady income and a home,’” she said.
“Before his job problems began, we were happy together.”