The Northeast Philadelphia plant that produced cookies and crackers for Kraft Foods gave LaTonya Brown and Tanya Wilson, two single mothers on the second shift, a way to provide their children with stable lives.
The women worked from 1 to 9 p.m., amid the din of flour blowing through hoses and the endless churning of 2,500 pounds of dough in a 10-by-8-foot mixer.
On Thursday, their lives abruptly ended in the same plant that had sustained them when a coworker beset by grievances, real or imagined, shot them near the end of their shift, authorities said.
"They were good employees," said John Lazar, president and business manager of Local 492 of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers, and Grain Millers International Union. "It was devastating for people at work. They cried in disbelief."
That devastation was amplified in North Philadelphia, where the women's relatives and friends coped Friday with their losses.
"What a horrible thing," said Bernadette Chappelle, a neighbor of Wilson, 47.
"She is my only child," Terral Brown said of LaTonya, 36, tears streaming down her face. "How am I supposed to get over this?"
Terral Brown said her daughter had told her she feared Yvonne Hiller, who has been charged in the killings as well as the wounding of Bryant Dalton, 39, also a worker at the plant.
"My daughter told me that she was scared because of Hiller, and that this girl was crazy," said Brown.
Jenine Harris said she was LaTonya's best friend.
"Just recently," Harris said, "she told me that there have been multiple complaints about this woman, Hiller, and that she was crazy."
Harris blamed the company. "What kind of security is this and why was this woman still at work after all these complaints?" she said. "This company should be sued."
Brown had been at Kraft for 11 years, and had been working a lot of overtime to pay the bills for herself and her four children, 6 to 22.
Wilson had two children in their 20s; a 15-year-old son, Mark; and two grandchildren, neighbors said.
Known to work double shifts, Wilson, employed at Kraft for 13 years, seemed to be at the plant "all the time," according to neighbor David Brown, 27.
Her prime preoccupation was Mark, whom she doted on and kept out of trouble.
"His mom stayed on top of him," said David Brown, who called Wilson "Erykah Badu" because her dreadlocks resembled the singer's.
"Tonya wouldn't let Mark take the bus until very recently," he said. "She got him a babysitter for when she worked at night. She was very attentive."
Another neighbor, James Hughes, said Wilson was "kind of hard to get along with if you didn't know her real well" and said he limited his conversations with her to the weather and neighborhood events.
LaTonya Brown described herself on her blog as a single Sunni Muslim whose interest was in marriage. She listed her occupation as a mixer.
At the Kraft plant, mixers are responsible for making the dough of whatever product is being produced, including graham crackers, Ritz crackers, Wheat Thins, Oreos, and Lorna Doones.
People at Brown's and Wilson's level generally make from $20 to $25 an hour, Lazar said.
They were considered "not real senior employees," Lazar said, which meant they had to work at harder jobs.
The work required them to lift 50 pounds of materials, such as cocoa and corn flour, that have to be mixed into the dough by hand, Lazar said.
Mixers must take the temperature of the dough and check it for consistency and color, recording on paper all that they do.
Generally, mixers are required to wear a uniform of blue polyester pants and red T-shirts with the Kraft logo. Hair and beards are covered with nets.
The mixing area is so loud that workers must wear ear protection. "The place sounds like a large hum of machinery, and you must raise your voice to be heard," Lazar said.
The hard work is rewarded with decent pay and what Lazar described as a "Cadillac" health plan and a nice pension.
"It's a good, blue-collar union job, and they are rare right now," he said.
The average age among the 400 union workers is 50, and many people have worked there a long time, he said.
"They hired people this year for the first time in 10 years," said Lazar, adding that it was not uncommon for workers' children, nieces, and nephews to get jobs at the plant.
He said working conditions were very good and management was "pretty cooperative." There has not been a strike since the 1960s.
Lazar was loath to speak about the shooting or the interactions between the victims and Hiller.
"Usually, people who work here get close," Lazar said. "It's a good, stable company."