Workplace violence ‘not a surprise’ in high-stress region

Local community expresses thoughts after Ford shooting

Local residents gather at the Morgan HIll Downtown Amphitheater for a candlelight vigil in the aftermath of the Ford Store murder-suicide.

As local police continue to piece together all that transpired leading to the tragic murder-suicide June 25 at the Ford Store Morgan Hill, the local community is left to wonder: Why did this happen? Were there any warning signs? Could it have been prevented?

Erik Pedersen, an experienced psychologist with Morgan Hill Therapy, said he was not surprised by the news that a recently-fired Ford Store employee fatally shot two of his supervisors and then turned the gun on himself.

“Not surprised at all. There’s always context for this type of thing. My first thought was it must be employee-related,” said Pedersen, who helps his patients cope with different kinds of challenges in their lives including those that arise from work stress. “This is one of the most stressful valleys to live in and work in.”

Pedersen, without knowing the adult male suspect Steven Leet prior to the incident, assessed the circumstances that resulted in the deaths of three San Jose men who worked at the Ford Store on Condit Road in Morgan Hill.

“We are dealing with a man who was deeply unstable, so any kind of rejection for an unstable person can be a huge ego threat and they’re going to retaliate,” Pedersen said of the 60-year-old suspect. “He was invalidated by what happened and it invoked the most primitive survival instincts. …‘How am I going to survive in this world if I can’t make a living?’”

With nearly two decades of clinical work, Pedersen has evaluated thousands of patients for various issues, including a case of a disgruntled employee who was stalking his former boss. He said men over 50 years of age who are divorced and have been through failed relationships tend to be more volatile. If a man has unresolved issues with a parent, he may transfer those feelings to a boss or authoritative figure.

“My hunch is there is something deeper, something older and family-related and there was transference onto the boss. Without therapy, they can go unresolved for decades and then they act out at work,” said Pedersen. “There usually are warning signs. …If a person is not taking feedback and criticism well and there is some long-time resentment, you need to get HR involved. Other times, however, it’s a long dormant beef which, in that case, you couldn’t see it coming.”

Sandy Ortez, a Morgan Hill resident who works as a human resources business partner, is regularly communicating with employees as part of the hiring-firing process and helping build workplace comradery as well as work-life balance among staff.

“When I heard it was a disgruntled employee, I thought there had to be other warning signs prior to him being fired that should’ve been addressed,” Ortez said. “If they didn’t acknowledge there was a problem and offer assistance, then that’s a problem.”

Any workplace issues should be brought to human resources, added Ortez, who also pointed to the competitive, high-stress nature of living in the Bay Area as a possible contributing factor.

“With the increase in stress in the Bay Area, you have to be hyper aware of your employees and the people around you,” Ortez warned. “We do live in a highly stressful area and it’s not going to get any better.”

Different perspectives on incident

Britton Middle School teacher and South County Basketball Academy founder Jim Green has lived in Morgan Hill since August 1977. He bought his Ford Fusion from Ford Store Morgan Hill.

“As much as we would rather not admit it, senseless workplace killings and school shootings have no geographic boundaries. They’re oblivious to zip codes and demographics,” Green said. “It’s just devastating. Personally, I think there should be equal parts emphasis on mental health as gun control.”

News of a workplace shooting at the local auto dealership did not come as a surprise to Gilroy resident Joe Luna, who used to work as an auto technician at two different BMW dealerships over an eight-year span. He said car dealerships are “high-stress environments, especially for auto technicians.”

“I could totally see this taking place. Absolutely. I’m surprised it hasn’t happened sooner,” said Luna, who left the industry because of “in-fighting among technicians to get the most profitable jobs.”

Morgan Hill parent Maria Bruhns said the first thing she did upon hearing the tragic news was look for names to see if the victims were anyone she knew from town since she’s been here since 1984.

“I’m not really surprised because this is a typical American town and unfortunately this happens because we don’t have stronger gun laws,” said Bruhns, who attended Paradise Valley, Britton and Live Oak schools. “It’s weird that he just had a gun in his car and he decided (on) this course of action instead of just talking it out.”

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