Glenda Laudisio had already left ZigZag's offices in the Navy Yard on Feb. 12, 2007, when Vincent J. Dortch showed up for an evening meeting with Laudisio's boss and three business partners in the small advertising company's conference room.
After exchanging pleasantries, Dortch, a disgruntled investor, pulled out a gun and killed three of the four people in the room before killing himself. The fourth, wounded, survived.
On Thursday, Yvonne Hiller, a longtime employee at Kraft Foods, allegedly shot and killed two coworkers and wounded two others while a hundred terrified employees tried to avoid harm.
The rampage at the Northeast Philadelphia plant was the most deadly since the mass murder at the small ZigZag agency, which employed fewer than a dozen.
The day after the shootings at ZigZag, it was up to Laudisio to pick up the pieces. She soon closed the business, and she never went back into the conference room where her boss and the others were killed.
"We had to move on," said Laudisio, who now heads Eight Eleven Inc., an advertising agency in Camden that she opened.
Even though she was skeptical at the time, it turned out that a group session with her fellow employees and a counselor shortly after the slayings helped.
"At that time, I wasn't sure about rehashing and digging it up, but I think it did give us a chance to get it out and deal with it," she said.
Some people spoke, others did not, but even those who remained silent, she said, "got to be with people who were facing the same issues."
On Friday, Kraft said it would temporarily close its plant and offer counseling to its employees.
Such counseling is critical to their well-being, said Jan Paul of Seattle, cochairman of the workplace disaster-response committee of the Employee Assistance Professionals Association, an organization of workplace counselors.
Now in private practice, Paul estimates she debriefs employees in two workplace homicides a year in an annual caseload of four dozen workplace deaths - suicides, sudden deaths, and fatal accidents.
Initially, she said, employees will crave information, and it is up to management to provide as much as it can and as frequently as it can, given boundaries imposed by police investigations.
What employees want to know may be unpredictable, but managers need to be willing to respond, she said.
One time, she said, she was involved as a counselor in a case where a bus driver was shot in the head. The other drivers needed more detail than she would have imagined: Was he shot on the left side or right side of his head? Where exactly did the shooter stand?
"You need to normalize responses," she said. Tell employees that certain reactions - numbness, depression, sleep irregularity, fear, flashbacks - are normal responses to trauma.
"People feel like they are going crazy," she said.
It may be necessary to close the facility temporarily, but if possible, it is a benefit for workers to return to the job. "Being at work helps normalize things," she said. "That is where the other people are who are going through the same experience."
She cautions against too rigid a routine. It is important that counselors and managers ask employees what they need and try to provide it. "Is there anything else that would be helpful," she said.
Paul said she usually offered separate sessions for managers. "Managers deal with an impacted staff, and they also are impacted," she said. "In this case, someone terminated that lady and let her go.
"There is going to be some guilt. Again, we have to normalize that. Nobody can predict violence 100 percent. We say that as supervisors, we have jobs to do and that absolutely, there will be guilt, no matter what we do. We remind them that they are traumatized as well."
One problem is dealing with the actual room where the murders occurred. In the ZigZag case, it was a conference room. At Kraft, it was a break room.
"People are going to have a fear of going back into that room," Paul said. Sometimes rooms are changed, painted, or repurposed.
"Some people might want to smudge it," she said, referring to an American Indian purification ceremony that uses smoke. "Or they might want to have something with food in there, some way of purging what went on in the room."
Paul said that the reality emerges in unpredictable waves that crash randomly over a period of time.
But, time does pass and time does heal, testified Laudisio, who says that she hardly ever thinks about the horrible events at ZigZag.
"We just started anew," she said. "It gave me a perspective about what's important. I try not to let little things bug me. You step back and look at life in general and what you choose to be upset by."
Stress Lingers After the Fact
When trauma strikes a workplace, workers and managers can experience stress for months. Here are some common reactions:
Physical symptoms, such as stomach pains, without a medical explanation.
Feeling out of control or unable to concentrate. Being hypervigilant and easily startled.
Changes in normal sleeping and eating patterns, either too much or too little.
Increased use of drugs and alcohol.
Changes at work:
Feeling exposed, vulnerable. Avoiding or refusing to return to work or to use equipment associated with the trauma.
Unexplained absences or increased use of sick and vacation time. Wanting to leave the job or profession.
Feeling foggy or numb. Being inattentive, leading to accidents and errors. Worrying about ability to perform job.
Changes in work relationships:
Feeling isolated, withdrawing from normal interactions.
Feeling blame for the event, feeling angry about coworkers' actions, feeling betrayed by management.
Loss of self-esteem around colleagues.
Experiencing more conflicts with authority. Seeking a sense of "justice" in management response to the situation.
Becoming militant about procedures, or becoming passive and helpless.
- Jane M. Von Bergen
Source: Washington State's employee assistance protocol for workplace trauma.