More Facts Revealed in Mississippi Workplace Shooting

July 9, 2003
Doug Williams spoke openly about shooting coworkers and, on the morning of his death, was attending an annual sensitivity and ethics training session. He walked out of the meeting, retrieved two guns, and returned to kill five of his coworkers, say authorities.

Williams used a 12-gauge shotgun to kill his coworkers, and also carried extra ammunition and a semiautomatic weapon. Authorities found other firearms, including a Ruger pistol, a rifle with a scope and a derringer, as well as more ammunition, in his vehicle.

Some co-workers claim the shooting was racially motivated, adding that Williams was racist, and made racist remarks, even threatening to shoot his black coworkers. In fact, a family member of one of Williams' victims said he threatened to do exactly what he did kill coworkers and then turn the gun on himself almost a year ago.

Williams killed four black coworkers and one white coworker: Lynette McCall, 47; Mickey Fitzgerald, 45; Thomas Willis, 57; Charlie Miller, 58; and Sam Cockrell, 46. The wounded included five whites and four blacks, leading Lauderdale County Sheriff Billy Sollie to claim there was "no indication [the shooting] involved race or gender."

Coworkers described Williams as an angry man, but said he didn't limit his angry outbursts to one race or gender.

Other factors might have been involved, however. A shop steward at the facility said Williams and his girlfriend had gotten into a disagreement with supervisors earlier in the morning, which might have motivated the shooting.

Williams' behavior the anger at authority and threats to coworkers were warning signs of a potential workplace killer, says Larry J. Chavez, B.A., M.P.A., a researcher and national authority on workplace violence prevention. He contends there is a "profile" of a workplace killer. More than likely than not, the workplace killer is a male over the age of 35 with significant tenure on the job, says Chavez. He is generally a socially isolated loner who is chronically disgruntled and has a particular disdain for authority. He externalizes blame and never "owns up" or accepts any responsibility for his problems at work or at home. He views change with fear and suspicion.

Workplace violence is the top security threat for America's largest corporations, according to a study conducted by Pinkerton Inc. Crisis management is the second greatest security threat. So what can employers do to limit the possibility of a violent incident in their workplace?

"Establishing and maintaining a violence-free organization is a conscious decision," says Chavez. "It does not happen by accident."

He said organizations who practice the following 10 steps will be well on their way to protecting employees and reducing liability:

  • 1. Place a high value on human dignity and emphasize, by example, respect for all people without regard to rank or position.
  • 2. Initiate a zero tolerance policy for all acts or threats of violence.
  • 3. Promote prevention of violence through formal training.
  • 4. Establish procedures for the timely reporting of violent acts or threats.
  • 5. Thoroughly investigate and document all violent acts and take immediate and appropriate action.
  • 6. Establish a representative team for assessing threats and making recommendations for future violence prevention efforts.
  • 7. Employ smart hiring practices as the first line of defense against internal violence.
  • 8. Offer and provide professional assistance to employees in need of counseling or psychological support.
  • 9. Attain the highest practical level of physical security.
  • 10. Constantly evaluate your violence prevention efforts, keeping what works and skipping what does not work.

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