Karen Bischoff Rea could have never imagined that when she dropped off her beloved oldest child and only son, Ryan Birse, 22, at work on February 25, 2016, that she would never see him again.
Karen could also have never imagined that the ultimate form of workplace violence would impact her family as it has.
Ryan at his surprise 17th birthday party (photos courtesy of Karen Bischoff Rea)
On that cold winter day four years ago, sweet exchanges of “I love you” between mother and son were shared. Karen proudly watched Ryan get out of her car and head into work.
As she pulled out of the parking lot, a nagging, unexplained feeling that had been with her all day popped into her head again.
“I don’t know why, but something told me to tell Ryan not to go into work that day. I even said to him to stay home, but Ryan was a responsible worker. He was scheduled to work and was going to make sure he upheld his commitment,” explains Karen.
Siblings Rachael and Ryan enjoying a day outdoors. (photo courtesy of Karen Bischoff Rea).
Karen, a very hands-on parent, returned home to enjoy the evening with her youngest child, Ryan's sister, Rachael, then a sophomore in high school.
Karen and Rachael were sharing some mother daughter time watching TV when an unexpected knock came at the door.
Karen opened it to find a police officer and the coroner on the other side.
A photo of Ryan was produced. Karen learned the horrible truth: Ryan was dead, shot nine times by a co-worker.
Karen collapsed in agony to the floor. Her nightmare, every parent’s nightmare, had begun.
In the four years that Karen has been required to live her life without her cherished son and, simultaneously, be there for Rachael who has had to life her life without her loving older brother, she has experienced every possible emotion a human being could ever feel...emotions capable of turning any parent’s heart cold even contemplating about what Karen has endured.
Karen has devoted her life’s work to educating and caring for pre-school aged children in her chosen career path.
Sometimes those children will find out about Ryan and will ask Karen about him. She takes these opportunities and uses them as teaching experiences for her young students.
Karen tells them about Ryan and shares sweet memories that warms her heart.
Ryan, Karen and Rachael celebrating Ryan's graduation.(photo courtesy of Karen Bischoff Rea).
Karen has also become an advocate for workplace violence prevention to honor her son.
When asked for a recommendation to any employer of workers, she simply says “be sure to vet applicants very carefully.”
Karen has not seen the employment file for the person who pled guilty to murdering her child and does know what was done in the hiring process regarding him.
She believes that there is always room for improvement and that all applicants should be screened as thoroughly as one would screen a babysitter coming into their home.
"Knowing Ryan as well as I do, I doubt he would have ever had anything to do with his killer if not for the fact he to work with him. We can't choose our co-workers, only our employers have the power to do that. It's a huge responsibility," Karen says.
Ryan surrounded by his mother Karen his sister Rachael and other family members. (photo courtesy of Karen Bischoff Rea).
EDITOR'S NOTE: The Occupational Safety and Heath Administration estimates that at least 2,000,000 workers are impacted by workplace violence each year.
Everyone has an interest in preventing workplace violence.
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