Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Plenty of Trauma to Go Around in Manchester Warehouse Shootings

A driver for Hartford Distributors, a beer distributor in Manchester, Connecticut, opened fire in the warehouse this morning around 7 AM.  He killed 8 people and wounded two others.  Police responded, and as they closed in on the gunman, he killed himself.  That much, everyone agrees on.  I think most if not all of us would also agree that, regardless of his motives, this kind of violence cannot be justified.

This story is not nearly as clean as that storyline would appear, however.  The driver had just been in a disciplinary hearing in which he was shown a video allegedly depicting him stealing from a company truck.  He was given the choice to resign or be fired, and he chose to resign.  He began shooting essentially as soon as the meeting was over.

As if that weren't complicating enough, the shooter was allegedly being harassed by coworkers because of his race.  He was one of two African-American employees, and his family says he showed them pictures of racial epithets and a stick figure being hung by a noose, taken in the company restroom.  He also reported being referred to by the "N word."  After he shot the other employees but before he killed himself, he reportedly called his mother and told her "I shot the five racists."  Then he shot himself.

This situation is messy on many levels, and messy situations have a lot of impact and need a careful response.  In this instance, I imagine the following groups need support:

  • the survivors, who have experienced believing they were going to die
  • the families of the dead, who have lost a loved one violently and suddenly
  • the families of the survivors, who will have lasting fears for their loved ones' safety
  • the family of the gunman, who must come to terms with what he did and grapple with the two disparate versions -- that he was being fired for misconduct and/or that he was the victim of racial harassment
  • the administration of the company, who have lost employees "on their watch" and may feel guilt, either because they fired the gunman or because they didn't respond appropriately to harassment complaints
  • the union, which would have represented him in the meeting this morning and which may have had harassment reported to them
  • anyone who actually harassed the gunman, who may now feel responsible (or may now feel his actions prove them "right" in their racism)
That's a lot of groups, and what makes it even trickier is that they are all going to need intervention and support separately.  You can't very well put the families of the victims and the family of the gunman together in a room to talk about how they're feeling, at least not if you want it to be productive, let alone healing. 

Add to this the fact that there are likely to be one or more lawsuits flying in various directions, and everyone knows it.  This means that anyone who feels guilty -- whether it's their fault or not -- is going to be pretty uncomfortable talking about those feelings for fear that what they say winds up in court. 

I hope this workplace has access to a good crisis response team of some kind.  I hope that team has an excellent coordinator.  They're going to need to assign people carefully and make sure they have enough to cover all the bases, because no one in this situation is going to be able to support more than one group, and in some cases perhaps only one individual.  They sure have their work cut out for them.


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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 www.SchoolCrisisConsultant.com
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