I-TEAM: Workplaces top target for mass shooters, attackers usually have connection

Louisville shooter worked at bank where he opened fire; was on brink of being fired

Louisville, KY – While school and church shootings often dominate the conversation, data shows that most active shooter situations are actually at workplaces and carried out by former or current employees. That’s the case in Louisville, where Monday an employee at Old National Bank opened fire, killing five people, and wounding eight more.

Louisville Metro Police Department Chief Jacquelyn Gwinn-Villaroel said at a news conference that bank employee Connor Sturgeon, 25, bought the AR-15 assault-style rifle on April 4 at a local arms dealer.

“We do know this was targeted. He knew those individuals, of course, because he worked there,” Gwinn-Villaroel said, but didn’t give an indication of a motive behind the shooting.

Police say a search warrant at his home revealed plans to kill.

The gunman doesn’t match the description of many mass shooters, described as: extremely intelligent with a master’s degree, a former Scholar Athlete with no criminal history. However, he wrote that he had struggled to fit in.

“One of the pieces of research suggests that they do have a history of aggressive behaviors, and then you have a stressful trigger, like a job loss or, you know, employment concerns, where it then escalates,” said Dr. Tracy Alloway, a Jacksonville-based psychologist and professor at the University of North Florida.

She said a common misconception is that mass shooters have serious mental illness, but many times that isn’t the case.

“Another way to look at it even for my own research in the workplace environment is looking at social connectedness, how connected does that person feel?,” she said. “So if an employee does feel connected, they have that social cohesion with their colleagues, they’re far less likely to have this be a trigger event for them.”

Data from the Violence Project shows mass shootings happen more often at workplaces than anywhere else – accounting for 31% of public active shootings. Most of the shooters had been fired or were in trouble at work. They had an identifiable grievance and they had studied the actions of past shooters, seeking validation.

Analysis of Workplace Mass Shootings (Associated Press)

Jacksonville hasn’t been immune to workplace violence. Many may remember a mass shooting at the GMAC office in Baymeadows in 1990. A gunman shot and killed two people on the Northside, wounding two others, before storming into that GMAC office building killing nine more, before taking his own life. It was Duval County’s deadliest mass shooting.

In 2012, a recently fired teacher returned to Episcopal School of Jacksonville’s campus, killing the beloved headmaster.

There’ve been others at industrial parks and an Amazon warehouse as well.

While there isn’t a known way to prevent all mass shootings, Dr. Alloway has advice to lessen the risk, especially in a workplace environment.

“It could be, it could also be an opportunity to reach out to check in with a colleague. ‘Hey, how you doing today? I know this is a stressful time of year for all of us. Just wanted to check in you want to grab coffee? Want to grab a drink?’” Alloway said.

Leaders in Louisville say enough is enough. Rep. Morgan McGarvey, a Democrat who represents the area, said while prayers are welcomed real policy changes are needed.

The shooting, the 15th mass killing in the country this year, comes just two weeks after a former student killed three children and three adults at a Christian elementary school in Nashville, Tennessee, about 160 miles (260 kilometers) to the south. That state’s governor and his wife also had friends killed in that shooting.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said he lost one of his closest friends in the shooting.

“Tommy Elliott helped me build my law career, helped me become governor, gave me advice on being a good dad,” said Beshear, his voice shaking with emotion. “He’s one of the people I talked to most in the world, and very rarely were we talking about my job. He was an incredible friend.”

Also killed in the shooting were Josh Barrick, Jim Tutt, Juliana Farmer and Deana Eckert, police said.

“There are no words to adequately describe the sadness and devastation that our Old National family is experiencing as we grieve the tragic loss of our team members and pray for the recovery of all those who were injured,” Old National Bank CEO Jim Ryan said in a statement.

Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg urged unity as the community processes its grief.

“We’re all feeling shaken by this, and scared and angry and a lot of other things too. It’s important that we come together as a community to process this tragedy in particular but not just this tragedy because the reality is that we have already lost 40 people to gun violence in Louisville this year,” Greenberg said.

About the Author:

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.