JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — An orange forklift made its way around the Lighting Resources warehouse floor Monday, and the recycling operation hummed with normal activity — but life was anything but normal for the 18 employees there.
When they left Friday, there had been 19, with 53-year-old Mark Gibble parking that same forklift for the weekend, smiling at his co-workers and calling it a week. Monday, Michael Blankenship — one-third of a “Three Musketeers” trio at the close-knit workplace — was behind the wheel of the forklift instead of Gibble, who was another part of the trio.
Saturday afternoon, police say, Gibble was shot and killed as he tried to stop a man who was attempting to steal his vehicle. Johnson City police have arrested Tori Mann of Elizabethton and charged him with first-degree murder and attempted theft of property over $2,500. Stephanie Lipford, also of Elizabethton, was charged with accessory after the fact and attempted theft.
“There’s a huge hole here, and it’s going to be a long while before it’s back to normal – if it ever is,” Branch Manager Greg Bryant said as workers focused on their tasks at hand in a somber environment.
“We gathered together this morning, lifted up Mark and his family in prayer and had some words about Mark,” Bryant said. “A lot of people are kind of numb, don’t really know what to do or say but everybody just said ‘hey, let’s just get busy and just stay busy and work hard.”
Bryant said that mindset matches Gibble’s day-to-day approach at work.
“If there was just a little bit of a gap between trucks to unload, he was sweeping, moving pallets, picking up boxes, moving things around, tidying up – that’s just the kind of person he was.”
Gibble was 53, a Philadelphia-area native who had lived in the area for many years with his wife Lisa. It was Lisa Gibble who called Bryant Sunday to tell him what had happened. She spent enough time talking to Bryant to tell him how devoted her husband had been and how much he liked his workplace and working for Bryant.
“She told me he would hide little love notes all over their place,” Bryant said. “She’d find them throughout the day, and he was just one of those kind of guys. He’s going to be missed by many in more ways than one. He was a pleasure to be around. The kind of person you wanted to come to work and be around if you’ve got to be somewhere all day.”
Lisa is disabled and Mark Gibble had taken care of her. They also have an adult son in the area, while their other child died a few years ago.
Bryant said a handful of employees hadn’t heard the news until the Monday morning meeting. That’s when they learned a popular co-worker who had shown up every day since he started at the company in late September 2019 wouldn’t be back again.
Along with a great work ethic, Bryant said Gibble had a great “aura” — often smiling and joking around.
“Mark was from the north, and he kind of got jabbed a little bit about that, and any time he got an opportunity to jab back he certainly did.”
Along with Blankenship and Gibble, the third “musketeer” was Kenneth Greer. After calling Greer with the news Sunday, Bryant asked him to deliver the news to Blankenship. He said the three would usually show up to work about 45 minutes early.
“(They’d) drink their coffee, have their conversations, do the things that they do and that’s going to be a huge void for them. If you saw one during break, you saw the others. I know those two guys over there are just devastated right now, as we all are.”