On July 1, 1992, a man entered the Tarrant County Courthouse and opened fire with a 9mm automatic handgun. He killed two people – Chris Marshall, a prosecutor in the Fort Worth DA’s office, and John Edwards, a defense attorney. Judge Clyde Ashworth was seriously wounded.
The killer was unhappy with the outcome of his divorce. None of those killed or injured were involved in the divorce case; they were just there when the man committed his act of violence.
I thought about that event, which occurred just down the street from the building I’m in as I write this, after last week’s act of violence that resulted in the deaths in Roanoke, Virginia, of TV journalists Alison Parker and Adam Ward – basically live on both television and social media.
Both these tragedies were extreme examples of workplace violence. Despite many high profile cases, if you look at the statistics on workplace violence, the U.S. rate has dropped, with a 35 percent decline in nonfatal incidents between 2002 and 2009, according to a U.S. Department of Justice study. Homicides in the workplace have declined also, dropping 51 percent from 1993 to 2009.
According to James Quick, professor of leadership and organizational behavior at the University of Texas at Arlington, there are ways to reduce the possibility of workplace violence.
“Employers can create safe (physically and psychologically) work environments,” he said. “This does not mean there is zero risk, but since this is actually a public health issue, we can engage preventive actions. Many employers already do.”
Quick notes that violence is not an accident. “It’s a category of motivated human behavior.” That makes it pretty predictable, he says. “Because it’s predictable, it’s preventable.”
Quick says people need to be alert in the work place for people exhibiting dangerous or risky behavior. Watch for “changes in behavior,” he says. “We all have habits and patterns of behavior.”
If those patterns change, someone needs to “check in with them to find out what’s going on because in all likelihood they’re responding to something.”
I’ve recounted the time I crossed the path of a violent killer in 1982 during my first stint as a journalist at the Grand Prairie Daily News.
The day was Aug. 9, 1982, and what police assume was a disgruntled former worker was on a murderous spree, shooting and killing six people and wounding at least three others. I was a reporter at the Grand Prairie Daily News and literally seconds after I arrived at the office that day we heard the police scanner erupt. I rushed to the scene, not knowing whether it was a false report of a shooting or something legitimate. By the time we got there, police sirens wailed throughout the city. So we knew it was the real deal, though we had little idea we were rushing to the scene of what was considered the worst shooting spree in Dallas-Fort Worth up to that time. When we arrived at the warehouse, it looked like the world was exploding. It was.
The shooter was eventually shot and killed by Grand Prairie police. What did we experience that day? Chaos is too soft a word for it.
So it’s even more impressive that three American friends were among a handful of individuals who helped stop a potential terrorist attack on a train in France on Aug. 19. The three Americans are being honored and they should be. I can’t imagine keeping my head when the world turns into a violent, unrecognizable place.
But improving statistics are cold comfort when these events strike close to home. A freelancer I know had connections to both the Sandy Hook school shooting and the Roanoke victims.
Six-degrees-of-separation may mean we’re a few Linked In connections away from the Queen of England, but it also means we’re just as close to a ticking time bomb like Charlie Manson.