Date of Incident: 15 February 2019
Location: Aurora, USA
Type: Active Shooter
- Assailant turns gun on colleagues after termination meeting.
- Five staff are killed, six police officers and one staff member injured during the incident.
- Attack shows up failings of the Firearms Owners’ ID card system.
- Risks from high-risk terminations and colleague to colleague violence are almost impossible to eliminate, but despite impressions remain fairly rare in comparison to overall violence.
On Friday 15 February, an employee opened fire after a termination meeting in Aurora, Illinois, killing five of his colleagues. Gary Martin, who had held a position at Henry Pratt Co. for 15 years, was in the middle of a disciplinary procedure and had brought a .40 calibre Smith and Wesson pistol to work with him. In the early afternoon he was called into a meeting in which he was terminated from his employment with the company for a series of rule violations. According to witnesses, upon termination he drew the pistol and began shooting the three people in the meeting, killing the plant manager, the HR manager and an intern. Martin then moved from this location into the warehouse, where he continued to fire on his former colleagues.
Police responded to the incident within four minutes of notification and were on scene by 13:28 CST. The first officers to enter the scene came under fire from the assailant and two were injured. Further police response teams followed, and three further injuries were incurred by officers as a result of a firefight with the gunman, with one officer also injured in an unrelated manner. Martin then retreated into the warehouse at the 29,000 square foot facility. Police teams entered the building, with one team searching for survivors while another concentrated on finding the gunman. At 14:59 CST Gary Martin was located in a machine shop at the back of the building and shot dead by officers. No further injuries to officers were reported.
It has come to light since the incident that Gary Martin was previously found guilty of felony assault charges in Mississippi and sentenced to prison in 1995. When authorities became aware of this, he had his Illinois Firearms Owners’ Identification Card (FOID) revoked in 2014. Nonetheless, his weapon was not confiscated. His workplace was not aware of his previous conviction.
It is not clear at this stage whether Martin knew that he would be terminated during the meeting on the afternoon of 15 February. Given that we know he was aware that he was going through a disciplinary process, it seems possible, if not likely, that this may have been his motivation for bringing a firearm to the workplace with him. This suggests that the attack may have had an element of preemptive planning. Conversely, it is not clear how often Martin carried his weapon to work; in itself, the presence of concealed firearms in the workplace without corporate awareness should be considered a concern.
Workplace violence, while a serious issue, is extremely difficult to prevent or pre-empt. There appear to have been few signs that Martin would resort to multiple shootings, and although much of the post-incident media reporting highlights the attackers’ previous conviction, it remains a leap to go from a domestic assault charge over 20 years ago to a mass shooting after a termination. Had his workplace been aware, however, they may have been inclined to take further security measures. Gary Martin did not, as far as we are aware, broadcast any intention of a plan, express any desire for revenge, or publish any information on social media that would imply the shootings were imminent. Shop assistants at a local store had said he seemed happy and sociable on the day of the shooting. This outward normality makes it extremely hard for HR professionals to make an informed decision about an employee’s state of mind. In these cases, it can be worth taking extra precautions as standard. Where there is a reason to believe that an employee could become dangerous, increased physical security presence is advisable; it is also worth consulting with or requesting support of the local police.
The shooting brings up serious questions around the control of firearm ownership where the relevant licensing has been revoked. This is further underscored by revelations by authorities since, which show a severe disparity between FOID’s voided and weapons transferred to the state or to new ownership. The State Governor, J.B. Pritzker, has since said his team is focussed on addressing the holes the attack has revealed in the system. Companies should remember though, that in an environment where gun ownership is relatively widespread, it is possible for potential criminals to slip through government checks; moreover, those determined to do so remain potentially able to procure a weapon illegally. We also remind readers that the absence of a previous criminal record or the presence of legal clearance to carry a firearm does not preclude an individual turning that weapon on his or her colleagues.
While workplace violence is an extremely concerning issue which deserves attention, reports from the Office for Victims of Crime has previously noted that it remains relatively rare in comparison to violence outside of the workplace. Of homicides in the workplace identified by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, by far the greatest number committed against men are during robberies, while women are overwhelmingly more likely to be killed in the workplace by their partner than a co-worker. Colleague to colleague violence, in contrast, accounts for around 15% of the 417 workplace homicides in the 2015 figures. Although the BLS doesn’t break this down further, it must be remembered that a number of these are likely to be personal disputes; anger over terminations is only one of many motivations driving workplace killings. Numbers have remained relatively consistent in the last few years according to the BLS statistics, with overall deaths hovering between 400 and 500 since 2010; these figures also show a significant decrease in overall homicides from 1,036 in 1995 to 458 in 2017, although the trend has levelled out in recent years. Every death at work still remains a tragedy, and terminations are likely to continue to prove high-risk events. Reducing those numbers further remains a significant challenge.