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On Friday, an employee at Virginia Beach Municipal Center opened fire in the building, killing 12 people and wounding several others. It was one of the deadliest incidents of workplace violence in the U.S. in recent years.
And it’s not the only one this year.
In February, a disgruntled employee in Aurora, Illinois killed five workers and wounded five police officers at his workplace the day he was fired.
In the wake of these shootings, how are workplaces preparing for — and attempting to prevent — this type of violence?
Here’s what psychologist Jillian Peterson and sociologist James Densley wrote for USA Today after the shooting in Aurora:
There have been nearly 50 workplace massacres in the past 50 years that claimed the lives of six people on average (range four-14 victims). Our research, which is not yet published, shows that the perpetrators were almost exclusively men (94 percent) with an average age of 38 (the youngest was 19, the oldest was 66). More than three-quarters (77 percent) were blue-collar workers, and 53 percent had experienced a recent or traumatic change in work status before the shooting, like the Aurora shooter who was fired from his job and began shooting during his termination meeting.
Job loss is one of life’s most stressful experiences and can be traumatic. It is associated with grief, anger and depression. However, our research finds that a workplace grievance is only part of the story. That’s because 50 percent of mass workplace shooters were already showing signs of a crisis, and 51 percent were known to be suicidal before the shooting. The fact that 68 percent of mass workplace shooters in our study killed themselves or were killed on scene is important. Only people who are ready to die execute a mass shooting.
We talk with Peterson about her research on workplace shootings.
- Jillian Peterson Professor of criminology and criminal justice, Hamline University; psychologist; @jillkpeterson
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