WESTBOROUGH, MA August 27, 2015 The killing of television reporter Alison Parker and Photographer Adam Ward both of WDBJ in Roanoke, VA and wounding of Vicki Gardner, the person being interviewed, raises the bar for the specter of workplace violence. Experts will be analyzing this sequence of behaviors for clues as to how best to keep businesses safe from disgruntled former employees. “Like dozens of mass killers before him, the shooter embodied a deadly mix of resentment, delusion, and thwarted aspiration” according to Sarah Kaplan (Washington Post, August 27, 2015). The live twitter posts, videotaping the shooting, and horrific execution of the victims by Vester Flanagan on live television will be a specter for years to come. Just as important may be the analysis of Mr. Flangan’s mental status in the months and days leading up to the terminal event. Nothing has been said about any relationships Flanagan may have had that provided support, understood his torment and brought him pleasure. Without human contact the torment of living in the margins adds to the emotional fugue sometimes felt by those who feel persecuted. One cannot say just how many events like this one may have been averted simply by having meaningful, intact relationships.
Red flag indicators are often demonstrated in behaviors that are observable and measurable sometimes for weeks and months before the terminal event. Flanagan exhibited the signs of enduring anger and resentment over perceived prejudice. Arguably, he brought himself into conflict with colleagues by being demanding. His employer made an effort to provide mentoring and internal “job” counseling as much as he needed – finally referring him to the employee assistance program for mental health counseling.
“The psychological autopsy is a detailed analysis of the pre-incident emotional comportment and behavior of the violent decedent although this is rarely done” according to Michael Sefton, Ph.D.(Sefton, 2013).
It is a single case study initiated to analyze the specific sequence of events that proceed a suicide in an effort to understand the motives and triggers to the death. If ever a case were in need of this type of analysis, a psychological autopsy of Vester Flanagan, AKA Bryce Williams, may provide clues as to the red flags that were raised that may have been points of contact for police and mental health experts to intervene. These points of contact are those initial signs of distress that authorities must have to provide stopping and containment of Flanagan before he was able to follow through with his plans. In May, 2014, Elliot Rodger, 22 posted a You Tube video declaring his intention to slaughter “those with a good life”. This occurred in Santa Barbara, CA, where his murderous rampage was posted using social media sites as a prequel to the killing of 6 college students including his two room mates – one of whom he stabbed 94 times.
WHEN TO ACT ON THREATS?
Stopping points are the first signs of danger that may have been present as early as 2000 in Flanagan. He had been fired by at least two television outlets because he was brash and difficulty to work with, according to human resource sources now being discussed. These are stopping points. The perpetrator in the Santa Barbara slaying planned the rampage for over a year and was receiving mental health intervention. In the end, Flanagan was escorted out of a newsroom in 2011 by police after being terminated for having a ‘major tantrum’ for being referred for mental health treatment. The television station was on lock down and yet Flanagan made threats as he left his job for the last time.
So much has been published about the “live tweets” left by Vester Flanagan posted while on the run. His use of social media exemplifies the planning and execution of a version of retribution never previously seen before. The posted video was surreal in its abject callousness. “The videos got out widely, forging a new path for nihilists to gain a moment in the media spotlight: an example that, given its success at garnering wide publicity, will most likely be followed by others” said Farhad Manjoo, NY Times, August 27.
It is now known that Flanagan identified with Virginia Tech mass killer Seung-Hui Cho who wrote a profanity laden manifesto blaming everyone for their maltreatment of him that sounded paranoid and vindictive and he was able to send the videotaped diatribe to a news agency. We can expect an uptick in the outrageous expose of violence as those who are so marginalized in society grow more detached and the festering of their plight becomes realized in the posts they leave behind.
Sefton, M. (2103) Blog post https://msefton.wordpress.com/2013/09/17/the-psychologi/ Taken August 27, 2015.
Slattery, D. (2014) New York Daily News, http://www.nydailynews.com/news/crime/santa-barbara-killer-plotted-murder-spree-year-police-article-1.2122168