We see it time and time again. The warning signs are all there: social separation, erratic behavior, veiled or overt threats, and more. These warning signs are indicators that an individual may be on “the pathway to violence,” a trend of behavioral changes that often foretell a future act of aggression. 

While the signs aren’t always obvious, the pathway to violence usually presents itself in ways that should alert observers. Among others, here are some behavioral “red flags” to look out for:

  • Extreme Emotions ‒ Depressive or withdrawn tendencies, intense anger or hostility, disconnected or robotic mannerisms, and bullying, harassment, or other confrontational actions.
  • Changes to Typical Conduct ‒ Extroverts may become more introverted, detached, or remote. Introverts may become extroverted, boisterous, or aggressive.
  • Threats or Intimidation ‒ Alone, any threat is worth reporting. Frequent threats and actions or words designed to intimidate could foreshadow a violent incident.
  • Blame – Placing responsibility for problems on others.
  • Increased Use of Alcohol or Drugs ‒ Potentially violent individuals are already challenged by emotions and stress. Alcohol and drug use can make this worse.

So often these signs end up getting excused, ignored, or explained away—a response some psychologists refer to as “optimism bias.” This cognitive distortion causes individuals to believe they are less likely to experience a negative event. However, shrugging off these indicators is precisely what individuals and organizations should not do when faced with this behavior. 

 Employees should always be cognizant of the adage “if you see something, say something,” paying attention to surroundings and coworker behavior, and staying alert for anomalies. If a colleague’s actions seem unusual like the indicators listed above, they may need assistance. That should always be the first goal, to help people that may be experiencing undue stress. Report concerns to your supervisor, HR department, or notify security if you believe there’s a serious threat. But make certain not to accuse the offender to their face – this may agitate them.

The Responsibility of Management

 To help facilitate these processes, it’s recommended that companies allow employees to report concerns anonymously. And it’s equally important that when concerns or complaints are brought to the attention of management they are taken seriously and responded to promptly. 

 According to a police report last year in Abington, Massachusetts, management at a supermarket waited more than five hours to notify police that a frustrated employee threatened to get a gun and “kill everyone.” The reason for their delay? Corporate policy. Yes, training employees is extremely important, but having the plans, policies, and procedures in place to act quickly when serious threats arise is also critical.

 Another example is the case of the November 2022 Walmart shooting in Chesapeake, Virginia, in which former employee Andre Bing claimed the lives of six coworkers and injured four others. Now one survivor is suing the chain for $50 million, alleging her complaints about the shooter were ignored. The UPI reported that “according to [the survivor’s] lawsuit…Walmart acknowledged the complaint but continued to employ Bing as a shift leader, despite warning signs from several employees.” 

 The Washington Post’s coverage of the incident shows these warnings included:

  • Threats against both management and coworkers;
  • Personal insults directed at employees;
  • The revelation of a “kill list” detailing his intent to target specific colleagues; and
  • Jokingly asking coworkers if they had received active shooter training.

Even with the pleas of staff members who feared for their safety and a record of previous disciplinary action, Bing was still allowed to continue working as overnight supervisor. Again, assuming these reports are accurate, Walmart’s dismissal of these behaviors and threats may have led to multiple deaths. 

Active shooter events like these rarely happen without “red flag” warning signs. As an extension of situational awareness, threats and other abnormal behaviors should always be noted, reported, and acted upon as part of a sound preparedness plan. Moreover, these signals shouldn’t be diminished because of feelings or personal agendas, but instead should be handled with the vigilance necessary to prevent potential bloodshed. 

With expertise including Run-Hide-Fight, situational awareness, active shooter training, conflict avoidance and verbal de-escalation, The Power of Preparedness provides critical guidance that can save lives. Contact us to learn more.