The April 10 shooting that killed five employees at an Old National Bank branch in Louisville, Ky., shocked banks across the country and raised difficult yet necessary questions of how to recognize the signs of a potential shooter.
Workplace violence can be perpetrated by a number of groups, including someone looking to commit a robbery; a current or former customer; co-worker; or someone with a personal relationship with an employee. According to nonprofit research center The Violence Project, current or former workplaces of perpetrators are the most common settings for mass shootings. The Kentucky shooting was perpetrated by Connor Sturgeon, a 25-year-old employee of the Evansville, Ind.-based bank who reportedly used a rifle in a conference room in the back of the building’s first floor. He was shot dead by responding police.
According to the FBI, each active shooter studied between 2000-13 displayed several red flags over an extended period of time before the shooting, including poor mental health, troubling interpersonal reactions, and leakage of violent intent. The Department of Homeland Security says possible indicators of looming violence include an employee with increased use of alcohol and/or illegal drugs; unexplained rise in absenteeism; depression/withdrawal; resistance and overreaction to policy and procedural changes; refusal to take personal responsibility; and paranoia.
According to the Louisville Courier Journal, Sturgeon was well-regarded before the shooting and had bachelor’s and master’s degrees. He had worked at the bank since June 2021, most recently as a syndications associate and portfolio banker. Media reports following the shooting described Sturgeon as having poor mental health. He reportedly left a note behind and told at least one person he was suicidal, according to USA Today.
Companies must monitor the mental health of their employees as the nation continues to grapple with a mental health crisis, said Tony Jace, CEO of the Crisis Prevention Institute. He said there has been a marked increase in incidents against health care and school staff over the last several years, along with more workers suffering from clinical anxiety and depression.
To prepare for an active shooter, The Department of Homeland Security advises companies to conduct mock active shooter training exercises with local law enforcement and first responders so employees can recognize the sound of gunshots and react quickly. Companies need to have an emergency action plan completed with input from human resources, an internal training department, property manager, local law enforcement and other first responders, according to DHS. The plan should include evacuation routes posted in visible areas throughout the facility; contact information and responsibilities of those covered under the plan; information regarding local area hospitals; and an emergency notification system.
Best practices for coping with an active shooter include being aware of the environment and possible dangers; finding the two nearest exits in the building; and, in cases where escaping is not possible, staying in a secured room. “As a last resort, attempt to take the active shooter down,” DHS recommends. “When the shooter is at close range and you cannot flee, your chance of survival is much greater if you try to incapacitate [the shooter].”
According to the Crisis Prevention Institute, companies can prevent aggressive behavior from escalating by having staff mentally rehearsing how to respond to someone displaying hostile behavior. Jace said employees must avoid being in a freeze-or-flight state and break any hostile dynamics. That could include agreeing with some of their grievances, offering the person food or a bottle of water, and taking them to another area.
Employees interacting directly with the hostile person should have coworkers around to offer support and backup. Debriefing is key after a behavioral crisis, according to the firm. “Discuss the situation with your coworkers, your supervisor and everyone affected by the situation, as appropriate,” CPI stated. “This is a good time to think about how you can better respond to similar behavior in the future — or prevent similar behavior from occurring again at all.”
The Louisville shooting claimed the lives of Old National employees Tommy Elliott, 63; Jim Tutt, 64; Josh Barrick, 40; Juliana Farmer, 45; and Deana Eckert, 57. Nine people, including two police officers, were treated for injuries. It was the 15th mass killing in the United States this year, according to the Associated Press.