Expert: Important to recognize signs of violence

Crisis management expert: Communication is key to diffusing workplace violence


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As authorities in San Bernardino continue the complex investigation into a mass shooting Wednesday that left 14 people dead, experts are saying officials are not only looking at what's on paper for the shooter, but also what was in his mind.

Officials announced Thursday that the mastermind of the massacre, Syed Rizwan Farook, may have been more than a disgruntled employee. Authorities said Farook was radicalized and in touch with people being investigated for terrorism.

Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, entered the conference center at the Inland Regional Center on Wednesday morning and began firing automatic weapons at a group of environmental health department employees attending a holiday party. Fourteen people were killed and 21 were wounded, authorities have said. Police later killed the couple in a shootout.

A crisis management expert who breaks down why people become hostile and violent held a seminar Thursday in Jacksonville on understanding the violent mind.

Bruce Blythe of Crisis Management International has provided crisis care for multiple tragedies since 1988. He assisted at Columbine, 9/11 and the recent mass shooting in Colorado Springs.

Blythe said when he first started in 1988, there were 604 terroristic acts worldwide. By 2014, there were 13,500, and that number will continue to rise, he said.

Blythe said the biggest issue in a lot of these tragedies was communication. Someone lets something get so built up that he or she feels violence is the only release.  

Blythe said the San Bernardino case is somewhat different because Farook is believed to be radicalized.

“This guy had no background history as far as criminal history. He has no mental health history that we know of. He got radicalized,” Blythe said of Farook.

Blythe's team is on the ground in California, assisting those involved in the San Bernardino shooting. Blythe said he uses tragedies like the mass shooting to help people understand the minds of violent individuals.

“Radicalized people tend to feel disenfranchised,” Blythe said. “They feel like they don't belong to a group and are young people who are seeking a sense of identity. And so what happens is (they think), 'I belong to a group and I can become something bigger than myself. I can be somebody.' And that's how they get radicalized.”

According to authorities, Farook also had grievances at his job. Blythe said although every situation is different, the best way to diffuse an altercation at work or home is to communicate.

“(It's important) for people to feel heard and understood,” Blythe said. “What happens then is they're in a position that helps them diffuse them down, and you find out what the concerns are, then you try to come up with a win-win solution.”

Authorities are questioning the Department of Health employees who worked with Farook, but no one seems to be able to pinpoint his motive.

Blythe said it's important to look for signs of violence from colleagues.

“Particularly in the workplace, if they feel unfairly treated, if you make them feel like they are not OK, and they're not worthy, they need to feel superior. And if you make them feel bad by firing them or whatever -- these are people with a propensity toward violence,” Blythe said. “One thing we do is we will monitor publicly available social media, because a lot of times they will communicate in the media.”

Authorities found that Farook's social media account included correspondence with more than one person who was being investigated for terrorism.

Officials said Farook and Malik were never on a list of potential people who could be radicalized, but Blythe said those kinds of people feel that they don't belong and will do anything to feel superior. That's why Blythe recommends being mindful of things like changing demeanor or attitude in the workplace.

“When people get that gut feeling that ‘this doesn't seem right,’ the basic goal is to tell someone that you feel is appropriate,” Blythe said. “If it's law enforcement, a supervisor, you need to tell someone. If you get that gut feeling that says, 'This one gives me the creeps.'”