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How to spot an employee considering a deadly mass attack

The shooter in Uvalde, Texas, had reportedly worked in a restaurant to pay for his guns and ammo. Here are some flags that a member of your staff might be contemplating violence.
Photograph: Shutterstock

The murder of 19 grade-school children and two of their teachers in Uvalde, Texas, may hold a particular chill for restaurateurs. The 18-year-old shooter, after all, was no stranger to the business. News reports indicate he had worked a five-hour shift five days a week at a Wendy’s in the area for about the last year.

One story said the killer told crewmates he was saving his pay to buy guns—the very weapons he took with him to Robb Elementary. According to that account, Salvador Ramos quit about two weeks ago because he had the needed cash in hand—about $4,000.

Co-workers described a quiet youngster who occasionally lost his temper, sometimes spoke or texted inappropriately with female teammates, and had a conflict now and again with a particular shift mate. 

The same observations could be raised about co-workers in restaurants across the country. But there are warning signs that can flag an employee as a potential lethal threat.

“Employees typically do not just ‘snap,’ but display indicators of potentially violent behavior over time,” the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) explains in its guide to how businesses should handle an active shooter. “If these behaviors are recognized, they can often be managed and treated.”

DHS advises employers to watch for any of these signs:

  • Increased use of alcohol and/or illegal drugs.
  • An unexplained increase in absenteeism.
  • Vague physical complaints.
  • A noticeable decrease in a staff member’s attention to their appearance and hygiene.
  • Indications of depression or signs of social withdrawal.
  • Resistance and overreaction to changes in policy or procedure.
  • Repeated disregard for company policies.
  • An increase in severe mood swings.
  • Obviously unstable, emotional reactions.
  • Explosive outbursts of anger or rage without provocation.
  • Comments or other indications the employee is having suicidal thoughts.
  • Seemingly paranoid behavior.
  • Increasing talk of problems at home.
  • Talk of severe financial problems.
  • Domestic problems that spill into the workplace.
  • Talk about previous fits of violence.
  • An increase in unsolicited comments about guns, other weapons or violent acts committed with them.

The DHS publication reviews the now-standard recommendation for anyone who finds themselves in a place with an active shooter: Run, hide, or, if all else fails,  attack the shooter with hopes of disabling him.

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