Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Predicting Extreme Fatal Violence

Risk Management

There are certain strategies that utilize these insights. For example, a company can avoid firing people during high stress periods, such as Christmas holidays. They can also try to determine what most raises a target employee's anxiety level and seek a way to address it peacefully, such as assisting him or her with a job search. If a potentially violent employee is terminated, then security, coworkers, and local police should be notified.

At schools, while "outsider" behaviors are no indication of future trouble, counselors should be alert to kids who are persistently bullied, who withdraw, or who show signs of depression that disrupts school attendance or motivation. Kids who cannot envision an end to their pain may look for weapons that give them a greater sense of control.

In each type of place, counselors or managers can assist in developing anger management programs. While not everyone will respond (the school shooters at Columbine High School did not), it's still possible to assist those who do see that they have a problem and desire to overcome it. When they can envision options, or when they feel as if someone's listening to their issues, stress might dissipate.

Counselors can also be attuned to specific stressors, such as divorce, death in the family, demoralization, or other incidents that threaten a person's sense of self-esteem. People in the workplace or at school should know what resources are available to talk through their difficulties, and should be made to feel comfortable using them.

If you are in a situation in which a potentially violent person is threatening imminent danger, there are several things you can do. Validate their feelings, avoid shaming or blaming them, listen, keep eye contact, and don't try to be humorous or ask them to "just calm down." Guide the situation toward describing the issue at stake, but if you don't know what to say, say nothing. That way, you won't inadvertently insult the person and fuel the fire.

While incidents of "uncharacteristic" extreme assault or mass murder derive from a range of contexts and precipitators, making it more difficult to develop a full comprehension of their causes, it's nevertheless clear that pent-up frustration and anger play a significant role, complicated by attitudes of blame and entitlement, the rigid need to control others, and the obsession to "be someone." The better our attempts to develop stress tolerance strategies for people at risk, the more likely it is that we can avert at least some potential tragedies.

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