Friday, August 31, 2012

Coffee break: yet another enraged ex-employee with a gun…

We’re in New York City, our first getaway since my husband’s cancer surgery in May.

We won’t be doing much – as much walking around as Jim is up for, mostly in the area we’re staying in, the Upper West Side.

So we may not actually end up near the Empire State Building.

But we surely will see it.

And we will be thinking of the killing there last week, of Steve Ercolino, who was shot just outside his office building, in the shadow of the Empire  State Building, by a former colleague who’d had issues with Ercolino, and who apparently blamed him for the loss of his job and the downward spiral of his life.

Our sympathies naturally (and appropriately) lie with Steve Ercolino. Whatever he was in the office – whether it was Mr. Mellow, fun to work with, go with the flow or tough guy, Type A, obnoxious jerk – he did not deserve to be gunned down by Jeffrey Johnson, on what Ercolino probably thought was just going to be another routine day at the office. Until he spotted his nemesis pointing a gun at him. So his last seconds on earth were knowing that the co-worker who had once threatened him, with whom he had scuffled on the elevator at work, and against whom Ercolino had reportedly taken out a protection order, was making good on his threat. And didn’t just shoot him once, but added a coup de grace to the head. Sad, just sad, for Ercolino’s family, colleagues, and friends.

With candor that I suspect he will come to regret:

A  former coworker described Ercolino has someone who was “very hard working” with a “strong personality.”

“He’s just very opinionated,” said Nicholas D’Aurizio, a designer at the company. “Really great at what he did. He just wasn’t the easiest person to be working with.”

“I’m not surprised at all because of the personality of the victim.” (Source: WNYC News Blog.)

D’Aurizio, apparently, didn’t get the word that you’re not supposed to say anything even vaguely bad about the victim, let alone something that almost sounds a bit blame-the-victim-ish.

In any case, even if Steve Ercolino was abrasive, a dick, at work, that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a loving son, terrific brother, cool uncle, and fun friend to those that knew him in “real life.” And it sure doesn’t mean that he deserved in any way, shape, or form to die this way.

This is, however, a cautionary tale in these our times when people are so strung out, so alienated, so stressed, so despairing, that they snap. And, unfortunately, so many of those who snap seem to have a gun in their hand when they do it.

Jeffrey Johnson – who was shot and killed by the police as he calmly walked away from murdering Ercolino - was 58 years old. A loner, living with his cat and supposedly spending his days doing “best artist in 8th grade” illustrations of voluptuous blondes, Mustangs,and fighter planes. Unemployed for a year. With no expectations that he would ever work again, at least doing what he wanted to do.

It’s easy to imagine Johnson’s working himself, day by day, into a frenzy over his prospects, the dimming of his days, and turning Steve Ercolino – the younger, better looking, more successful guy who probably did get the girl and drive the Mustang, and with whom he’d wrangled at work – into the root cause of all of his myriad problems. Especially if your brains a bit jangled to begin with, it’s easier to blame someone else than to look inward: maybe I’ve lost my knack, maybe the styles have changed, maybe I need to figure out what to do with the rest of my life if this ain’t it…

Most of us aren’t psychologists, trained to identify fellow workers who may be volatile and dangerous, capable of ‘going postal’. And even if we do spot the ‘warning signs’, what are most of us equipped to do about it?

It sounds like Steve Ercolino was clued in enough to get some kind of restraining order against Johnson. Was there no one at this company – and I would not in a million years expect that someone to be the VP of sales – who might have been able to help figure out how to ameliorate, rather than aggravate, a bad situation between two employees. It may still have ended in Johnson’s being let go, but maybe under circumstances where he could have viewed his loss of employment as something that “happened,” rather than something that was caused by a particular person.

But it also sounds from my sundry readings that designers are routinely treated like crap in the high-pressure fashion industry. (And employees in pretty much every industry risk running into a-hole, bullying bosses, even if it’s not the industry norm.) So maybe Jeffrey Johnson was just in the wrong business, in the wrong company. The perfect storm for a deeply wounded and mentally unhealthy individual.

If someone had been a tiny bit nicer to Jeffrey Johnson, if someone had reached out to him, if someone had even had a glimmer of the mental state he was in, might this tragedy have ended in something other than a hail of bullets?

You really do need to be careful out there. Humans are fragile, some more so than others, and need to be handled with care.

Meanwhile, the Ercolino family’s left with pulling themselves together, trying to reconcile their son’s stepping out for breakfast and ending up dead.

Other sources: NY Times, Newsday, DNA Info, NY Post

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