Aurora Shooting: An Amok workplace violence case?
Year 4 - Week 7
ISSN 2603 - 9931
Just one day after the Parkland shooting first anniversary, another active shooting came up on February 15th 2019 in Aurora, second biggest city in Illinois after Chicago, the capital of the State. During 95 minutes eight SWAT teams and around 200 and 300 police officers responded to the active shooter incident in a warehouse where five victims and the shooter dead and another five officers were wounded. Gary Martin, the shooter, held a termination meeting once he reported for work and, once he was fired, he took a .40 caliber Smith&Wesson handgun and opened fire against his coworkers and supervisors. Almost automatically, 911 is called by one employee reporting shots have been heard after another employee had been fired. While more shots are heard, first police responders arrived to the warehouse four minutes later, at 1:28 pm. Gary Martin starts shooting at the police from a window with one first officer wounded at the first moments. In the following five minutes shots continued and thee victims inside the meeting room were reported and another two employees were shot in the warehouse, while the shooter continued shooting back at the police from windows. Finally, between 1:32 and 1:35, four police officers are shot from the windows, despite an armored vehicle is around the facilities to facilitate the entrance in the building. The active shooting lasted around eleven minutes. Medical first responders arrived at the scene at 1:37. After a search along the whole warehouse (29000 sqf), at 2:58, Martin was found hidden, and after a brief exchange of fired, he was shot down by the police. The whole incident lasted one hour and a half.
Gary Martin had a personal record of violent behavior, with charges of aggravated assault after attacking two ex-girlfriends. Due to that conviction, he shouldn’t have had firearms, but he bought his handgun to a weapons dealer in 2014 without any legal restriction, he obtained an Illinois firearm owner’s identification card, bought the gun two months later and he got a concealed carry license. The paradox is that during the routine background check for the permit, the Illinois State Police found he had a felony conviction and the FOID was revoked. Some questions remain unanswered, since the State Police would have sent Martin a letter informing about the revocation and instructing him to give up the weapon. He might have never received the letter or he might just have ignored the law, but the weapon was with him and he used it to kill five people and injure five more(2).
Fails in communication between different jurisdictions are not rare. Cases as Seung Ho in the Virginia Tech (2007) shooting show that. But perhaps the main failure is in prevention and detection of potentially risky profiles.
Workplace violence is defined in the ASIS Workplace Violence Prevention and Intervention Standard (2011) as “A spectrum of behaviors –including acts of violence, threats, and other conduct- that generates a reasonable concern for safety from violence, where a nexus exists between the behavior and the physical safety of employees and others (such as customers, clients, and business associates) on-site, or off-site when related to the organization”. Different channels can help to guarantee a safe environment for work, but they necessarily go through threat assessment techniques at some point.
In the case of Gary Martin, a previous record of violence went unnoticed, even if it was of domestic nature, but it had taken place twice, one of them in Mississippi, in the 1990s, but the second case in Aurora, after dating for some time with a neighbor. Additionally, he had been in prison for almost three years and nevertheless he got legally a gun, although later on the permit was revoked. So on the one hand, we have in the workplace a potentially violent profile, and on the other hand we have publicly a proved violent profile with a gun which, due to the State of Illinois control system, the police didn’t had to recover, so the owner kept for more almost five years. No screening of employees’ criminal and/or psychological background by the warehouse nor any follow up by the State’s authorities have contributed to allow the incident.
Although categories of attackers don’t mean a one-size-fits-all classification, some ref flags could have been considered. Martin had a previous record of violence. That same behavior was noticed by some of his coworkers, who pointed out he wasn’t aggressive, but somehow he showed “an attitude” when he was confronted or reprimanded for doing something forbidden during workhours –i.e., using the cell phone-. All these misdemeanors lead the organization to arrange his termination. Since he belonged to a trade union, he was informed in advance that he was going to be fired on that Friday’s meeting, a situation that would stress anyone and probably in a more intense way a prone-to-violence individual, especially after fifteen years working in the same company and location. Since the attacker was going through an especially stressful moment marked by a foreseen loss of his job, and he possessed a concealed weapon, he could fit in the category of an amok attack, a snapped, out-of-control act of violence of short duration –after the first eleven minutes, Gary Martin hid and remained hidden until he was discovered, fired against the police and was neutralized. Apart of the fact that he knew the facilities because he had been working there for more than a decade, there are no other indicators of a planned attack as leaking or a modus operandi such as the killing and finishing off the victims or barricading. The access to firearms enabled him to increase the number of casualties, but it is not that much the possession of guns but the violent, uncontrolled outburst that the attacker suffered.
These kind of attacks require, therefore, prevention as the early detection and screening of red flags and potentially threatening behaviors, involving all the spectrum of stakeholders, from coworkers to law enforcement, and secondly, an appropriate management and response system to the incident. In Aurora, Illinois, active shooting incident, it was probably the first part the one that failed the most.
 Timeline extracted from Chicago Tribune, https://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/aurora-beacon-news/news/ct-abn-aurora-police-st-0217-story.html
 Crepeaus, M. Aurora Shooter should not have had a gun due to felony conviction, but state law failed to stop him. https://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/aurora-beacon-news/news/ct-met-aurora-gary-martin-gun-20190216-story.html
 ASIS (2011) workplace Violence Prevention and Intervention Standard, p. 3.