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Massacre's 20th Anniversary: Lessons from the Xerox Murders

Ronen Zilberman, Pool/AP
FILE --Byran Uyesugi, center, charged with multiple murder counts in the shooting deaths of seven Xerox Corp. co-workers in November 1999, sits by defense attorneys Rodney Ching, left, and Jerel Fonseca during arguments in his trial in Honolulu.

Twenty years ago, the islands grieved as the unthinkable happened. Byran Uyesugi, a service technician with the Xerox Corp, went to the company’s warehouse and murdered seven of his co-workers. 

Afterwards, he drove a work truck to the entrance of the Hawaii Nature Center in Makiki Valley. A police standoff ended only after the killer’s brother talked him into surrendering.

The seven victims were all Xerox employees: Jason Balatico, 33; Ford Kanehira, 41; Ronald Kataoka, 50; Ronald Kawamae, 54; Melvin Lee, 58; Peter Mark, 46; and John Sakamoto, 36.

Uyesugi is serving a life sentence at Saguaro Correctional Center in Arizona.

Hawaii has not had a mass shooting of that magnitude since that day in 1999, but nationally the tragedies have become more commonplace. Terms like “active shooter” have entered the lexicon. School shootings such as Sandy Hook and the Las Vegas shooting at the Route 91 Harvest music festival have dispelled any sense that these events were limited to certain parts of the country.

Just the possibility of a threat can be disruptive. In June at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, a laptop malfunctioned, emitting smoke and making a popping sound. A rumor spread that there was an active shooter, causing panic. 

The police response to mass shootings have changed since 1999. Sgt. Jerome Pacarro of the Honolulu Police Department told HPR's The Conversation that 20 years ago the first officers on the scene would set up a perimeter and activate specialized officers like SWAT. The major downside to this approach is the response is delayed while an assailant is actively hurting people. 

HPD now uses the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT) Program developed by the Texas State University.

“Nowadays, we changed and revamped our training,” Pacarro said. “Now the concept that we bring is, we're going to take immediate action. First officer on scene is going to make first entry. We're not going to wait for anybody. We're going to get in there and we're going to stop that threat.”

The training also integrates emergency personnel and the fire department into the contact teams. In the case of the Xerox murders, the dispatch call was initially sent to EMS because the caller said people were injured. When the dispatcher found out the shooter was still on the loose, he had to be transferred back to police. In 1999, callers also used landlines, causing delays if a victim needed to find a phone.

One of the unnerving aspects of the Xerox murders was that it happened at Uyesugi’s workplace.

John Fielding, director of risk management at ALTRES, helps organizations prepare safety plans. He told The Conversation that businesses, churches, schools and different organizations need to prepare and customize their plan to their situation.  

“There’s never one solution,” he said. “But the reality is this -- you have to teach people to do their best to be aware. Awareness is key to understanding what may happen. Being aware of your employees, being aware of what you’re doing.”

For ALTRES, the best practice in violence prevention is zero tolerance. If anyone exhibits or expresses violence in the workplace, the employment service company does not stand for it. Fielding said employers have to act quickly and in a timely and consistent fashion.

Prevention is key, but you can still stay safe in case of a mass shooting event. HPD educates the community to use ALERRT’s Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events, and advise civilians to remember -- Avoid, Deny, Defend

“Don’t just hide under your desk and hope for the best,” Pacarro said. “Never stop working so that your situation is always getting better so you’re not just sitting there waiting to be a victim.” As an example, he said even if you’re hiding in a room, you can barricade and reinforce the door. 

Although two decades have passed, the legacy of the Xerox murders is still felt today.

“It’s like a ripple effect.” Fielding said. “It’s not just isolated to this situation or the incident. It affected our state. Everyone was talking about it. Everyone was moved about it. Everyone was emotional about it.”

Jason Ubay is the managing editor at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Send your story ideas to him at jubay@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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