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CNN shooting highlights safety in public workplaces

Story Highlights

• Two women killed at work in open spaces by men they knew, police said
• Atlanta hotel worker was 22; University of Washington researcher was 26
• Security analysts: Be "situationally aware," have an emergency plan
• Utah cop who killed mall gunman: "Should we change our lifestyles? No."
By Thom Patterson
CNN
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ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Deadly shootings recently at Atlanta's CNN Center and the University of Washington's Seattle campus underscore how attackers may target victims who work in public places.

In both tragic instances, gunmen chose locations that are open to the public to shoot and kill women who worked there: Atlanta hotel worker Clara Riddles, 22, and University of Washington researcher Rebecca Griego, 26.

Police and security analysts said a large part of the responsibility for safety in open venues rests with workers themselves -- remaining aware and vigilant.

"We all go out in public at some point," said University of Washington Assistant Police Chief Ray Wittmier on Wednesday. "But it's really hard to always be on your guard if there's somebody who's bent on causing you physical harm."

Wittmier was one of many campus police who responded to initial reports of gunfire at the school's architecture building Monday.

Guns drawn, officers searched the facility room-by-room, Wittmier said. They moved quickly to the fourth floor, where police burst in to find the aftermath of a gruesome murder-suicide. (Watch how e-mail shows that the killer knew where to find his victim Video)

Officers found Griego dead on the floor, shot multiple times. Her killer and former boyfriend was slumped behind a desk, with a single gunshot wound to the head. "As best we could tell it all happened fairly quickly," Wittmier said. "I think she was surprised."

The real identity of the ex-boyfriend, who was known to be a con-artist in his early 40s, remains uncertain, he said. The ex-boyfriend likely had taken advantage of Griego's willingness to help underdog figures, Wittmier said.

In Atlanta, Riddles, an honor bar attendant, had been on the job at CNN Center's Omni Hotel less than a year before she was targeted Tuesday. (Interactive: Follow how and where the shooting happened)

Atlanta police say Arthur Mann, Riddles' ex-boyfriend, shot her to death. Witnesses report seeing a man drag Riddles by the hair through the atrium at CNN Center shortly before she was shot. (Watch security officers aim weapons at suspect after shooting Video)

Security officers cornered Mann and shot him in the face, while employees at the adjacent CNN.com newsroom watched in horror.

Following surgery, Mann was reported in stable condition.

Expert: Visibility key

Visibility of security in a public workplace is a key factor in such crimes, said international security analyst Kelly McCann. "This guy obviously knew where his former girlfriend worked, he probably had a feeling for the level of security there," McCann said.

"The higher presence and visibility there is, the more of a deterrence there is. If that guy had felt that there was no way he could have gotten in there with a weapon, grabbed her and shot her there, the shooting may not have taken place there."

Twenty-six-year veteran police Detective Mike Brooks and McCann agree that visitors and employees can survive attacks at public places by using "situational awareness."

"Be aware of your surroundings, be vigilant about suspicious behavior, always look for a possible escape route," said Brooks, who spent six years on an FBI antiterrorism task force.

Dangerous people in public workspaces often exhibit warning signs, said McCann, including telltale body movements indicating someone might be hiding a gun in their clothing. Jarring actions, such as people shouting or violently grabbing or pushing, may signal trouble.

'I was getting tired of being shot at'

A gunman killed five people and injured several others in February at a shopping mall in Salt Lake City, Utah, before off-duty policeman Kenneth Hammond shot and killed him. "He shot at me numerous times," said Hammond on Wednesday. "I was getting tired of being shot at."

The killer, Sulejmen Talovic, 18, was holed up inside a storefront and Hammond, armed with a handgun, took cover about 20 yards away behind a large, cinder-block support column.

"I fired at the man at least 10 times" before killing him, Hammond said.

"Shootings in malls aren't common in the U.S., so people shouldn't alter their activities," he said. "For whatever reason, that guy snapped. Will it happen again? Sure it will. Should we change our lifestyles? No."

What to do

McCann offered several points on how to protect against attackers in public places. "If you see that kind of action and you're convinced that it's an act of violence, then you need to go away," he said. "If you can alert someone in a position of authority -- a guard or police officer -- certainly do that."

Because it's difficult to determine where gunfire may be coming from, McCann said, "people have a tendency to just run. But sometimes people may hit the ground. That's not necessarily the best answer because obviously a moving target is harder to hit."

McCann cited past tragedies when victims were killed after taking cover on the ground and under furniture, such as the 1999 attack at Colorado's Columbine High School. "Gunmen have just walked around shooting people who remain in place."


SIX SAFETY TIPS

Security analyst Kelly McCann:
  • Have "situational awareness"
  • Look for warning signs: Shouting, jarring acts, odd body movements
  • Hitting the ground may not be safest move; get away; alert authorities

    Antiterror expert Mike Brooks:
  • Report suspicious packages
  • Be vigilant
  • Have a plan if something happens
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