Shooting in Connecticut

Another workplace tragedy. You have probably heard about it by now.

A warehous driver who was video taped stealing beer was given the opportunity to quit or be fired. Leaving the meeting he was being escorted by two company officials. He said he was thirsty and went into the company lunchroom where he had 2 nine mm pistols hidden in a lunchbox.

He shot his two escorts and began shooting other employees, apparently mostly management, including the union representative who was present for the meeting.

A grim reminder of the danger that is inherent to these types of employee terminations.


  • 28 Comments sorted by Votes Date Added
  • Tennessee Employment Law Letter editor John Phillips has looked at the Connecticut tragedy and offered his insights in a longer-than-average blog post this morning. John's lessons focus on (1) claims that the CT shooter allegedly experienced racial harassment at work, which might have contributed to his fatal decisions, and (2) the critical time for employers -- immediately after an employee has been fired and is finding his way out of the building, with or without an escort. tk

  • John Phillips' blog is a good one.

    As an HR Director, I have attended more than my share of termination meetings. They are always difficult and you never know when it can turn -- as in this case -- awfully bad. It is agreed that it is vitally important to think about this tragedy and try to ascertain some lessons which would help us to prevent something like this from occurring again. Realistically, we can not assure that. There is hurt and pain enough (whether perceived, made up, or real) in our workplaces today. Nine people are dead and nine families are in turmoil and this should not have been.

    For me -- and I cautiously say that my words could be eaten by even me one day -- when I read that the termination meeting was less than 15 minutes, that the employee signed the letter without protest, MY RED FLAGS IMMEDIATELY WENT UP. A person -- whether innocent or guilty -- does not do that quickly. They want to cry, beg, argue, plead for another chance, etc. This employee seemed to have felt that he had no one in the room, or perhaps in the workplace, who would listen to him. No one who would take "his side".

    Now before dismissing this "theory" of mine do remember that I have been smack in the middle of a lot of termination meetings. There must be empathy no matter what the circumstances. There must be an opportunity to be heard. There must be someone who will assure that the terminated employee keeps his humanity. From my readings so far, the company did not acknowledge this employee's feelings of being discriminated against. If there indeed were a noose and racial conversations, as reported by the girlfriend -- someone in management has heard about it. Yet all I read are denials. And even now, the tone is dismissive.

    Friends, co-workers, brothers, sisters, moms, dads are dead. Families are devastated. My heart aches. Why, why, why.

    As HR professionals our job is to listen and to set a tone in these meetings that says -- this situation is hurtful -- for you and it is hurtful for us. We must use our experiences to try to avoid this kind of workplace tragedy. We have big roles to fill.
  • Apparently this employee was on video stealing beer. With taped evidence, a short meeting would not be inconcievable.

    Personally, anyone who would shoot and kill 8 people over a job is a dangerous psychotic. I dont think the length of the termination meeting or the tone made any difference. This person brought the guns to the workplace and intended to use them.
  • Today's (8/6/10) [I]NY Times [/I]has a chilling account of the shooter's own 911 call to the CT State Troopers office. I am impressed with how calmly and professionally the officer (reportedly not a trained negotiator) handled the call. tk

  • The 911 telephone call revealed the very high caliber of the operator who exhibited outstanding calm and sensitivity during the interaction, and helped us gain more information than we would otherwise have.

    @Paul: For me it is important to step back and really look at the details of the event(s) -- especially when my emotions want to scream "how can this happen" -- she/he must be psychotic and this was going to happen. This person killed nine people (including himself) so I am in no way justifying this tragic occurrence. Even so, a fifteen minute termination in which a video is shown, a termination letter is read and acknowledged, an explanation is perhaps given, advice on benefits and COBRA rights (or denial thereof) is outlined; coupled with the company's denials of any knowledge of things out of the ordinary occurring in the workplace does not seem reasonable to me.
    I will not throw up my hands and dismiss this as one psychotic killer who would have acted in this manner no matter what. There are many terminations in which employees are accused of stealing which don't end in tragedies like this.

    We do have a choice, we can examine and attempt to lean lessons which can help us avoid these occurrences -- psychotics or not.
  • I suppose alot depends on whether the allegations of racism had any credibility. If they did, they deserved a full examination (not that it justifies stealing beer).

    But there are chronic complainers out there who dream up every imaginable offense. Do you really want to have a long drawn out termination discussion with someone like that? Even if you do, there will be no resolution.

    If the allegations of racism were unfounded, I think its very reasonable that the company officials believed that a short, carefully worded meeting was the appropriate course given the voliatile curcumstances.

    I don't know that the fact that this coward murdered 8 coworkers means that they were necessarily wrong.
  • These are all hard questions to answer. Of course, it is hard to believe that [I]something[/I] wasn't going on. It is too scary for us to believe that people will just start shooting for no reason. But how do we know if his complaints were real or imaginary? I am sure a full investigation will be done now and we will find out. But, what if the company was right and a full investigation had already been done?

    I remember about 20 years ago my hubby supervised a gal who got stranger and stranger. He began to have real fears for his safety, and the safety of his co-workers. They had no EAP, and she didn't respond to his attempts to help (which was very little compared to what we might do these days), or to get her work up to par. He works for the government so it was months before they finally let her go. He had to tell her to go to personnel where they handled the termination. While she was gone, he had the job of packing up her stuff. She was escorted from the premises, and she laughed heartily about it, taunting them for their "silly" fears. Security had her picture up and were on extra alert for months. That termination didn't last long either. They just wanted her out of the building safely.
  • I've had 5 minute term sessions and I've had 60 minute term sessions. I don't know that either length (or any between) seems more inherently dangerous than the other.

    You're dead on about treating them with respect and allowing them to maintain their dignity, though. More often, it's what is said in the meeting and how it is said that counts.

    The first guy I fired broke my nose afterwards. I improved my style very quickly.
  • My first firing took place after hours as the owner of the company decided he didn't want to be around for the fallout. The gal that was terminated cried and cried for over an hour and I stayed with her. I felt so badly for her but have learned over the years that that might have not been the best way to handle the sitution.
  • I hate the weepy ones. I'd rather they just break my nose.
  • Here is a quote from a criminologist about workplace shooters:

    "They tend to be grievance collectors who remember every slight and … they tend to externalize blame. Whatever happens is not their fault, and they tend to perceive a profound sense of injustice."

    To me, that makes more sense. This guy felt the system was against him. He couldn't win. Every look or comment was percieved as an offense.

    You can't have a discussion with someone like that. There is no basis of rationality.

    So it bugs me that several innocent workers not only lost their lives but now their reputations are being smeared. Their loved ones didnt get the chance to say goodbye to them. Now they have to endure unfounded claims of racism.

    I think the media is missing the obvious racism in this incident. All the victims were white.
  • You may be right Paul, but it is also possible his claims were not unfounded. You don't really know. It is just as wrong for us to assume all the victims were innocent of wrong doing and their reputations are being smeared without basis as it is to assume they were racists and the employee was not listened to. Either one could be true. It doesn't change the fact that the murdered employees did not deserve to die, nor their families hurt this way. It doesn't change the fact that this is a terrible tragedy. And it doesn't change the fact that the family of the shooter is hurting too. Let's not judge too soon.
  • What we don't know: whether the allegations of racism were true.

    What we do know: 8 people were murdered by Omar Thornton.

    The media seems to be proposing that a racist environment pushed Omar Thornton over the edge. Or maybe it was how management dismissed his allegations. Or maybe it was how short the termination meeting was.

    How about placing the blame on Omar Thornton? Even if every single allegation about racism is true it doesn't justify in the slightest what Thornton did.

    Thornton apparently told a former girlfriend "I'm sick of having to quit jobs and get another job because they can't accept me."

    I have heard people talk like that. They are the ones that can't keep jobs but never know why. Nothing is ever their fault. Nobody understands them.

    Maybe a racist environment made him steal the beer too.
  • Thank you, Paul, for putting into words what I have been thinking since this whole thing happened. At some point, the responsibility for this tragedy has to be placed directly where it belongs, with the man who made the choice to shoot and kill eight people.
  • Please HR professionals -- don't close your eyes when we must keep them open. At no time have I heard "the media" take blame away from Omar Thornton. He murdered nine people, including himself! That can not be justified. And I was the one to highlight the shortness of the termination meeting. I don't have to be right about that -- but my experience led me to believe that it was just one of many things to cause pause -- that's all.

    I would never negate the feelings of the families who are suffering because of this man's actions; likewise I will not negate his possible pain, turmoil and hopelessness if faced with unchecked discrimination. Whether racism was present or not would not excuse it. However, if management knew of discriminatory behavior in the workplace which is covered by Title VII, and accepted or acquiesced to it, they must accept some of the guilt which turned this workplace into a killing field.

    We would be mistaken to not look at the totality of this event for our responsibility is to make workplaces safe for every employee, as well as to see that laws are adhered to.
    Let's do our part to make sure no other families need go through this heartache. (And that includes the Thornton family.)

    @Paul - I sincerely appreciate you starting this thread because it gives us an opportunity to communicate on this topic -- and it is so needed.
  • Dasher, I appreciate your side of the conversation too. I agree that we should be looking for lessons here. Its been an interesting discussion.

    Here is an example of how Omar Thornton's actions are being excused because of "workplace bullying".


    My favorite line from this editorial:

    "When unemployment has reached a historic apex and the job market is showing marginal growth, who would seriously consider terminating an employee on an assumption that s/he stole something?"

    Umm... almost all employers?
  • Wow! One has to wonder where he got his credibility to be considered a writer in the first place. ;)

    I loved some of the responses I read. Especially the one by someone called Paul.
  • That's interesting. Wasn't me however. Apparently all Pauls are articulate and intelligent.
  • At the risk of temporarily diverting this extremely interesting discussion (congratulations to all of you for providing such thoughtful insights on a terribly tragic situation), I doubt that the piece that Paul cited was vetted by what you would probably think of as a traditional "editor." If I'm not mistakened, sites like that one are part of the new and growing "journalistic" infrastructure that simply watches which hot topics are trending for the day and fills cyberspace with content loaded with the same "key words." In some instances (though I'm not sure what's policy is), the writers are paid by the number of clicks. It's the new retail journalism. If I were writing those pieces, I might leave in a semi-outrageous statement or two just to get people to forward the link. IMO, it's just a notch or two above a letter to the editor, but it's certainly more calculated to contain the right key words and show up high in a Google search. If I'm wrong, maybe somebody from will come on here and let us know.

    It's a messy time for journalists/pundits/bloggers/examiners. Today, though, you can bet that they're all writing about Jet Blue and using the word Jet Blue as many times as they can in each sentence about Jet Blue or any Jet Blue employees. Jet Blue Jet Blue Jet Blue. tk
  • Very true, Tony. [SIZE=1]Lindsey Lohan[/SIZE]. Unfortunately, a public that has lost much of its trust in 'Main Stream Media' seems to have no problem accepting as gospel the rantings of thousands of bloggers. [SIZE=1]Lindsey Lohan[/SIZE]. While the 'crowd-sourcing' of content is an intriguing development, the ability to discern or validate what's true from what's BS is [B]not[/B] on the rise. [SIZE=1]Lindsey Lohan[/SIZE].
  • The important thing, Tony, is that the article met my two criteria:

    1. It was on the first page of Google
    2. It fit my argument and furthered my agenda
  • and you were able to lead us to a site where you called the writer names that you would not use here
  • Under the nom de plume "Paul".

    Brilliant strategerie!
  • Only problem is that its not me. But carry on. Plus, do you see me calling someone "weenie-boy"?
  • Well, not on this site. But that doesn't mean it wasn't you on the other site. On this site you [I]occassionally[/I] try to be more professional.

  • Oh my goodness! You guys have managed to turn my smile on today -- what a bunch. Glad to be among you. LMBO
  • Time to crack open a beer and deploy the emergency chute! I am OUTTA HERE! Oh, wait, its only noon Pacific time.
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