Friday, January 8, 2010

Does the ABB Shooting Make You Look at Your Coworkers Funny?

An employee turned up at the ABB transformer manufacturing plant in St. Louis yesterday armed with at least four guns and a fanny pack full of ammunition.  He opened fire in the parking lot and continued into the plant.  He killed three coworkers, injured five others, two of them critically, before he shot and killed himself. 

There are two aspects of this case that are different than what we've come to expect from workplace shootings.  The first is that we don't really know why he did it.  He was suing the company over pension fees, but that was old news. While the trial started recently, the suit was filed more than 3 years ago, and it was a class action lawsuit, meaning that there were plenty of other people involved in the same dispute.

The second unusual fact is that this was not a former employee, but a current one.  We are accustomed, when we hear about these things, to hearing about how the gunman was a disgruntled former employee.  We read that he was recently fired, or he left a long time ago and blamed the company for something.  Or he was never an employee at all but had a dispute with someone who worked there.  Not this time.  This guy showed up for work armed to the teeth and killed the people he worked with.

Certainly no one (except, perhaps, police officers) expects to be shot at while at work.  However, most of can think of people more likely to shoot up our workplace than others.  If we let ourselves imagine the worst, we think of the person who was fired or left "under a cloud."  We think of the angry client who cussed us out the last time we saw them, or the evil ex-spouse of a coworker.  Most of us do not think of the person in the next cubicle, or the person down the assembly line from us.  For the most part, we may not like our coworkers, but we don't think of them causing us harm.

That is what makes this shooting particularly disturbing.  If no one knew this guy was angry or dangerous and he opened fire at his job, what does that mean about the people we work with?  This messes with our understanding of when and with whom we are safe.  This is not the way things are "supposed" to work.  Honestly, I still can't imagine any of my coworkers doing something like this.  But I'd be lying if I said today I'm not just a little concerned that maybe I'm fooling myself about that.


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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at
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