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Charlotte Observer: Murder-Suicide Highlights Growing Issue For Employers

Experts are pointing to a murder-suicide Monday evening at a Lowe's Home Improvement store as an example of what can happen when domestic violence - usually considered a private, at-home problem - spills into the workplace. Zoua "Vivian" Xiong, 25, was working as a cashier at a Lowe's in Kannapolis when her husband came in just after 5 p.m. Monday. He was upset, said Concord police, who have jurisdiction in the area. The couple got into an argument, but police said they're not sure why they were fighting. Por Ye Lor, 31, pulled out a gun and shot his wife, then turned the gun on himself near the registers at the front of the store. The couple had three children, according to news reports. Louree Wilkerson was at the store when the shooting happened. She said she had just picked up a call from her mother on her cell phone when she heard the first gunshot. Wilkerson told WSOC-TV she screamed after hearing the first shot, and then she heard three more. "You feel lucky," she said, "but all the things play over in your mind: 'What could've happened?'" The issue of domestic violence in the workplace will be the focus of a Charlotte conference next month. United Family Services had planned the sessions to help employers protect employees and others from partner violence. "A lot of companies are not aware of the ramifications of domestic violence until something like this happens," said Karen Parker Thompson, chief advancement officer of United Family Services. "Maybe this will open people's eyes." The Lowe's store, located on Dale Earnhardt Boulevard, just off Interstate 85 near the Concord-Kannapolis line, reopened for business Tuesday. It's unclear how many people were in the store at the time of the shooting, but police said there were several witnesses. The company called in grief counselors to speak with employees who witnessed the shooting or who knew Xiong. "A lot of employees who don't work here came in to assist so we could give full-time staffers the time they need to heal," said Lowe's spokeswoman Karen Cobb. Xiong had worked for Lowe's for six years as a cashier, first at a store in Salisbury near her home, then at the store in Kannapolis, Cobb said. Concord police Maj. Allen Overcash said investigators aren't aware of any previous violence between the couple. There were no records of domestic incidents between them in Salisbury, where the couple lived in a quiet neighborhood in a one-story brick home with toys scattered in the front yard. Overcash said reports indicated they were a normal couple - a "hardworking, nice family." Training for employers United Family Services' first Domestic Violence at the Workplace Summit is set for Oct. 6-7. The conference is designed to help business executives and human resources personnel create policies to prevent domestic violence in the workplace. The summit will feature a screening of the film "Telling Amy's Story," which chronicles the history of violence and threats leading up to a Pennsylvania woman's death in 2001. Amy Homan McGee, a Verizon Wireless employee, was shot and killed by her husband. Verizon began reviewing its policies after her death. Now, the company takes extra security precautions, if necessary, including transferring employees to another location away from their abusers. If companies aren't moved to act in order to help their employees, advocates say, they should pay attention to the bottom line. Domestic violence negatively affects victims' job performance, said Johnny Lee, director of the advocacy group Peace at Work, in a teleconference last week. And abusers often interfere with their victims' work by causing a scene at their job, or constantly calling or texting. Women in the United States lose nearly 8 million days of work each year because of intimate-partner violence, according to the National Violence Against Women Survey. Lost productivity, lawsuits Such violence results in more than $727 million in lost productivity, according to the Centers for Disease Control. If businesses don't take steps to protect employees and customers, they could face lawsuits. In March 2009, Robert Kenneth Stewart was searching for his estranged wife, prosecutors said, when he stormed into the nursing home where she worked in Carthage, 90 miles east of Charlotte. He killed eight people with a shotgun. Stewart was convicted of eight counts of second-degree murder and sentenced this month to at least 142 years. Now, relatives of four of the victims are suing the company that owns the nursing home, claiming Stewart's ex-wife had told her supervisors that she had left her husband and was worried he might come to the nursing home, the Fayetteville Observer reported. Although police have said they didn't receive reports of violence between the couple in Monday's murder-suicide, it's unclear whether co-workers knew of any potential threat. Businesses have a duty to protect employees from "reasonably foreseeable risks," said Amy Worley, a Raleigh-based attorney and partner at McGuireWoods law firm. Businesses need to take all threats seriously, Worley said. "The consequences of being wrong are too severe." Staff researcher Maria David contributed