It became clear by the late 1990s that reports of workplace violence were not always just followed by other copycats of workplace incidents a day or a week later, but sometimes by other forms of mass and rampage violence as well. For example in the first week of November 1999, two workplace shootings on a Tuesday and a Wednesday shook the United States, which was already reeling from a long string of office and school killings for the year. In Seattle and Honolulu, the families of nine victims grieved as observers debated how to keep violence out of public settings traditionally considered safe.
In Honolulu, seven people were shot to death when Xerox technician Brian Uyesugi walked into a second-floor meeting room of the Xerox's offices and opened fire. He shot all the victims at close range with a 9mm handgun.
In Seattle, the next day a gunman shot and killed two men and wounded two others in a shipyard office. Wearing a dark trench coat over camouflage clothing, the gunman had walked into the Northlake Shipyard building and proceeded down a long hallway and into a back office before wordlessly opening fire and shooting all four men in the room with a 9mm semi-automatic handgun. Two 9 mm guns, two Pacific Rim cities, two days of killings. Ten days later, another school shooting occurred in New Mexico.
One type of copycat event was reinforcing another—and people were beginning to take notice.
In early July 2003, author Kate Randall, writing in WSW News, observed that in “the past week has witnessed an uncommonly large number of violent incidents—including two workplace shootings, murder-suicides and multiple homicides. Three teenagers were also arrested for allegedly plotting a killing rampage. Between July 1 and July 8, 20 individuals were killed in these incidents and another 14 wounded… Also on July 8, police found the bodies of four people, apparent victims of a murder-suicide, in a small, well-kept ranch-style home in Magnolia, N.J.…Another multiple shooting was discovered on July 8, this time in Bakersfield, Calif. The bodies of a grandmother, mother and three young children were all found shot dead in their home.”
When such clustering occurs, with its mix of violence types, the copycatting is spreading from one type of incident to another. "Absolutely, there's a copycat aspect to workplace violence," James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University in Boston, told the Christian Science Monitor in 2001. "There's a copycat aspect to virtually all high-profile, high-visibility crimes."
To more clearly explain the "copycat effect," here is this section, also from The Copycat Effect:
The pattern is called the “copycat effect.” It is also known as “imitation” or the “contagion effect.” And what it deals with is the power of the mass communication and culture to create an epidemic of similar behaviors.
The copycat effect is the dirty little secret of the media. That doesn’t prevent the media from calling the various epidemics of similar behaviors the “copycat” phenomenon, often for shock impact. But curiously, their use of the phrase seems to put a distance between the events and the reporting media, and allows them the stance that implies we are not part of the problem. But they are.
Sociologists studying the media and the cultural contagion of suicidal behaviors were the first to recognize the copycat effect. In 1974, University of California at San Diego sociologist David P. Phillips coined the phrase, “The Werther Effect,” to describe the copycat phenomenon. The word “Werther” comes from a 1774 novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther, written by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the author of Faust. In the story, the youthful character Werther falls in love with a woman who is promised to another. Always melodramatic, Werther decides that his life cannot go on, and that his love is lost. He then dresses in boots, a blue coat, and a yellow vest, sits at his desk with an open book, and, literally at the 11th hour, shoots himself. In the years that followed, throughout Europe, so many young men shot themselves while dressed as Werther had been and seated at their writing desks with an open copy of The Sorrows of Young Werther in front of them, that the book was banned in Italy, Germany, and Denmark.
Though an awareness of this phenomenon has been around for centuries, Phillips was the first to conduct formal studies suggesting that the Werther Effect was, indeed, a reality--that massive media attention and the retelling of the specific details of a suicide (or, in some cases, untimely deaths) could increase the number of suicides.
The August 1962 suicide of Marilyn Monroe presents a classic modern day example of the Werther Effect. In the month that followed it, one hundred, ninety-seven individual suicides – mostly of young, blonde women -- appear to have used the Hollywood star's suicide as a model for their own. The overall suicide rate in the US increased by 12 percent for the month after the news of Monroe’s suicide. But, as Phillips and others discovered, there was no corresponding decrease in suicides after the increase from the Marilyn Monroe-effect suicides. In other words, the star’s suicide actually appeared to have caused a whole population of vulnerable individuals to complete their own deaths, over and above what would be normally expected. This is the copycat effect working with a vengeance.
"I'm going to improvise. Listen, there's something you should know about me... about inception. An idea is like a virus, resilient, highly contagious. The smallest seed