Silhouette of sad man(Credit: solarseven/

Mass attacks are back in the news following two recent California shootings that left 18 people dead. Despite the seemingly random nature of these attacks, many are triggered by workplace issues and take place in business settings.

A new report from the National Threat Assessment Center of the Secret Service investigated 173 mass attacks from 2016 to 2020 in which three or more people were harmed. Among the key findings:

  • Most attackers had exhibited behavior that caused concern in family members, friends, neighbors, classmates, coworkers and others. In many cases, these individuals feared for the safety of themselves or others.
  • Many attackers had a history of physically aggressive or intimidating behaviors, evidenced by previous violent crime arrests or charges, domestic violence or other acts of violence toward others.
  • Half of the attackers were motivated by grievances and were retaliating for perceived wrongs related to personal, domestic or workplace issues.
  • Most of the attackers used firearms, many of which were possessed illegally at the time of the attack.
  • One-quarter of the attackers subscribed to a belief system involving conspiracies or hateful ideologies, including antigovernment, antisemitic and misogynistic views.
  • Many attackers experienced stressful events across various life settings, including family or romantic relationships, employment and legal issues. In some cases, attackers experience a specific triggering event before perpetrating the attack.
  • More than half of attackers experienced mental health symptoms before or at the time of the attacks, including depression, psychotic symptoms and suicidal thoughts.

As the nation searches for solutions, employers can play an important role. For example, enhanced mental health benefits may be especially important in the wake of the pandemic and at a time of economic uncertainty. They also should anticipate the unexpected.

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