HARD LESSONS LEARNED WHEN A TERMINATION TURNS DEADLY
On February 15, 2019, 45 year old Gary Martin, an employee at the Henry Pratt facility located in Aurora, Illinois arrived for work at approximately 6:45 a.m. After clocking in, he spoke to some co-workers and expressed concern of being terminated over a safety violation that happened the previous day. During one of the conversations, Martin said, "if I get fired, I'm going to kill every motherf****r in here" and "I'm going to blow police up."
At approximately 1:00 p.m., Martin was called to a disciplinary meeting with supervisors in an upstairs private office. Before going to the meeting, Martin was observed retrieving "something" from his workstation, putting on a hoody and going upstairs. Just prior to entering the private room for the meeting, Martin was observed going into the bathroom. After exiting the bathroom, Martin entered the meeting where he was immediately presented with a written write up for the safety violation that occurred the day prior. He was then told he was being terminated from his employment. Moments later Martin open fired killing four almost instantly, hunting down and killing another then wounding six in a 1 hour 34 minute engagement with law enforcement officers.
Martin Was Not Allowed To Posses A Firearm:
In 1995, Martin was convicted of a felony in another state. As a result of that conviction, Martin was prohibited by law to purchase and/or posses a firearm. Nevertheless, in 2014, Martin purchased a Smith & Wesson M&P 40 caliber semi-automatic handgun with a laser sight. Days later, the purchase was flagged and Martin was supposed to relinquish the firearm, but never did. Martin also had an additional 6 arrests including domestic battery.
Sixty Four fired casings matching Martin's firearm were recovered from the scene. Martin had another magazine containing 10 rounds of ammunition on him with another seven already loaded in his firearm.
The Warning Signs:
Hindsight is always 20/20-but provides us the ability to evaluate what has happened, so we can apply what we have learned going forward. With that in mind, let's take a look at some of the key warning signs, that if acted on may have prevented or changed this deadly outcome:
1. Martin had a firearm in his vehicle which he was able to get inside the facility undetected.
2. Martin was concerned about being terminated for a safety violation that happened the day prior to the shooting.
3. Martin made comments that he would kill people should his employment be terminated.
4. Martin was allowed to return to his workstation where he "got something" prior to his disciplinary meeting.
5. Martin was allowed to go to the bathroom prior to the disciplinary meeting.
6. There is no evidence of security personnel involved in this matter prior to the shooting.
There is no lesson harder learned than the one proven to be preventable. This is one of those cases. Through a series of improper personnel management techniques, failures to disclose, lack of security personnel and plans all coming together creating the perfect storm, five individuals lost their lives, families lost their loved ones and the hopes of many were crushed-and the company's response: "he passed a background check 15 years ago." That is perhaps the most insulting response from a CEO I have ever heard.
That being said, let's break down the things that should have already been in place prior to this happening which would have more than likely prevented this event from happening:
Martin was a 15 year employee at this facility. That means he gave the management 15 years to learn everything there was to know about him. Fifteen years to learn what was happening in his life. Fifteen years to learn his struggles, his joys, his hopes, his dreams. Had the management "led" Martin rather than "supervised" Martin, they would have seen this event coming long ago and could have used many different management tools to prevent it. Regardless of how big your organization is, it is the direct supervisor's responsibility to KNOW their personnel and to LEAD them-not SUPERVISE them.
Too many organizations rely far too heavily on "background" checks. Pulling data on any individual should only be used to guide a vetting investigation. Because some data-base says an individual has no criminal history tells you nothing when it has not been independently verified. Had a background investigation been completed, perhaps more useful information would have been learned thereby making the decision to hire more reliable.
There are no bad teams-just bad leaders. Failing to create an environment where an employee had no desire to look out for "the team" and report that a co-worker was going to kill people if he was terminated, while knowing the co-worker would probably be terminated is perhaps one of the bigger failures in this case. Far too often, companies of all shapes and sizes promote individuals who have shown some type of knowledge and experience in the area where they work. They choose these people to supervise others based on their skill set of the tasks at hand. What employers are failing to do is train these new supervisors to be leaders. Leaders lead by example. They know their teams. They know what each individual can and cannot do. They look out for them and care for them as if they were their own. Supervisors do none of the above-they simply tell the employee whether or not they are doing a task correctly.
In studying this incident, nowhere have I found any mention of a security element involved in the termination of Martin. Nowhere. The lack of an armed security element at ANY facility where there are multiple terminations and high turn-over rates is by far, hands-down, the most egregious failure of all.
Had a trained, armed security element been in place, they would have been able to conduct a threat assessment prior to the termination. They would have known who Martin's friends (at work) were, interviewed them, and more than likely learned Martin had a firearm in his vehicle. They would have also learned Martin was concerned about being terminated, and possibly of the comments he made to kill people SIX hours before the disciplinary hearing. The security team would NOT HAVE allowed Martin to return to his work station to "get something," and would NOT HAVE allowed him to go to the bathroom unsupervised. Perhaps the most important factor of involving a security team in the disciplinary process would have been their presence to engage Martin immediately at the time of a threat rather than allow him to control the situation for 1 hour and 34 minutes.
This event was tragic-but preventable. For more information on how to prevent violence, see our previous article Managing Violent Terminations By Following The Rule Of Three.