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Indianapolis FedEx massacre:
Workplace violence is rare
Most of these disgruntled workplace
avengers believed that they were the victim of injustice and mistreatment on
James Alan Fox columnist
Published 3:00 p.m. ET Apr. 18, 2021 | Updated 4:25 p.m. ET Apr. 18, 2021
Not much is known as yet about the gunman's motivation for perpetrating
Thursday night's rampage at an Indianapolis FedEx facility that resulted in
eight victim fatalities and injuries to five others. According to
reports,19-year-old Brandon Scott Hole had previously been employed at the
facility, but whether he was fired or quit on his own and for what reason
have not been revealed. And there has been no indication whether any of his
victims were specifically targeted.
According to his mother, Hole
fantasized about suicide-by-cop. He did take his own life inside the FedEx
building, but without waiting for a shoot-out with the police.
enforcement had dealt with Hole back in March of 2020. Deeply concerned
about her son's well-being, Hole's mother had contacted the authorities,
requesting an evaluation of his psychological fitness. The mental health
check resulted in the young man's hospitalization and confiscation of his
shotgun. After completing its investigation, the FBI later concluded that
Hole did not pose a sufficient threat to warrant further restraint, allowing
him legally to purchase the two semiautomatic rifles used in Thursday's
In the aftermath of mass killings, warning signs always
seem much more telling with the aid of 20/20 hindsight. Of course, most
troubled people do not turn their angst into violent action.
While we await answers concerning Hole's motivation and employment
history information that may never come to light without him around to
explain the history of previous workplace massacres at the hands of current
or former employees helps to make sense of seemingly senseless carnage.
Since 2006, there have been 14 workplace massacres with at least four
people killed that stemmed from employment grievances, according to the
Associated Press/USA Today/Northeastern University Mass Killing Database (of
which I am one of the principals).
Most of these disgruntled avengers
believed that they were the victim of injustice and mistreatment on the job.
They were determined to be the one doing the firing with bullets, not pink
slips. Sometimes the perpetrator's grudge centered on a particular
supervisor or co-worker, yet innocent others were victimized because of
their association with the prime target. Some assailants blame the company
in general, and indiscriminately slaughter anyone in their path as proxies
for the organization.
In 2010, for example, Omar Thornton, 34, was
fired from his job at a Connecticut beer distributor after being caught
taking kegs for personal use. Enraged over his dismissal, he proceeded to
shoot 10 of his co-workers, killing eight. In a most unusual move, he then
called 911 to make sure everyone was aware of his justification.
Angry workers launch workplace violence
is a racist place," Thornton explained, "They treat me bad over here ... So,
I took it into my own hands and handled the problem. I wish I got more of
Satisfied that he wouldn't be seen as just some nut who
went off the deep end for no reason, Thornton then took his own life.
Subsequent investigation determined that the man's claims of racial bias
Back in the 1980s and 1990s, workplace homicide was
a major concern in office suites and manufacturing plants across the
country. A string of deadly rampages at postal facilities gave rise to the
term, "Going Postal," yet workplaces of all types were on high alert for the
dreaded "co-worker from Hell."
Many companies, large and small,
endeavored to upgrade the workplace climate. Recognizing that wellness of
their workforce is as important as the bottom line, they held trainings to
combat harassment and invested in Employee Assistance Programs for workers
in need of counseling.
Other businesses, however, took a more
hardline approach. Rather than offering outplacement services for downsized
employees, they escorted displaced and displeased employees out the door
with security personnel standing guard.
An imbalance between support
and security can have a decidedly negative effect. Repeatedly staging active
shooter drills and bolstering the workplace with physical barriers tend to
create a fortress-like environment, one that can alienate workers and breed
hostility. But this does little to attend to the needs of those individuals
who are at risk for violence.
With the pandemic on the wane and
businesses welcoming their employees back to the workplace, management must
be prepared to support those who had been furloughed as well as others who
labored under the stresses and strains of extended social isolation. And, of
course, some employees will return reluctantly for fear of the virus, of
dealing with co-workers who may resist mask wearing, and even of the
possibility of being confronted by someone like Omar Thornton or Brandon
Hole with a loaded gun in hand.
Notwithstanding the recent massacre
at FedEx as well as less extreme acts of workplace violence that did not
make headlines, the risk of being shot by the scary guy in the office down
the hall is quite low. Still, companies should strive to maintain a
supportive work environment for all their employees.James Alan Fox is
the Lipman Professor of Criminology, Law and Public Policy at Northeastern
University, a member of the USA TODAY Board of Contributors, and co-author
of "Extreme Killing: Understanding Serial and Mass Murder." Follow him on