URGENT Postal Employee Kills 14, Wounds Six; Takes Own Life
EDMOND, Okla. (AP) _ A postal employee threatened with dismissal walked into a post office Wednesday with a mailbag full of guns and ammunition and opened fire without saying a word, killing 14 co-workers and himself, authorities said.
Six other postal workers were injured in the rampage.
″I just happened to turn around and saw two of my carriers and a supervisor go down,″ said letter carrier Orson Cordis.
Someone yelled that a man had a gun ″and everyone started running. Some of them got trapped in some of the rooms,″ Cordis said. The gunman was ″just pointing and shooting. When he shot the third shot toward my direction, that’s when I got out.″
Prosecutors identified the gunman as Pat Sherrill, 44, a part-time employee who had been told Tuesday that he would be fired if his job performance didn’t improve.
Sherrill, a Marine veteran described by authorities as an expert marksman, had been counseled about his work and had received several letters of warning, said U.S. Postal Service spokesman Lou Eberhart in Washington.
Richard Carleton, postal service division general manager from Oklahoma City, said at a news conference that Sherrill had a history of discipline problems at the post office.
On Tuesday, Sherrill had been counseled by supervisors Rick Esser and Bill Bland, said Diane Mason, a co-worker. Esser was killed, but Bland arrived at work late and was spared.
He worked for the Oklahoma City post office as a letter sorter for about three months in 1982 before resigning. He began working as a letter carrier in Edmond on April 27, 1985, earning $9.35 an hour.
Sherrill’s supervisor had discussed his work performance with Sherrill the day before the rampage, Carleton said, adding he could not be more specific.
Larry Verchelli, a steward for the American Postal Workers Union, said Sherrill attempted to reach him Tuesday, apparently seeking a transfer.
Postal workers said they knew little about Sherrill and described him as quiet and reserved man. Assistant District Attorney Ray Elliott said he apparently had no criminal record.
″I never heard his voice in the whole time I worked here,″ said postal employee Ms. Mason, who escaped the onslaught. ″Nobody knew him.″
At a news conference Wednesday night, Police Lt. Mike Wooldridge said Sherrill was ″a possible manic depressive.″
″This was a totally depressed individual,″ Wooldridge said. ″He had been reprimanded. He was 44 years old and was looking at the possibility of being out of a job.″
Lt. Col. John Shotwell, a spokesman for the Marine Corps in Washington, said Sherrill served in the Marine Corps for almost three years, enlisting in the corps Jan. 15, 1964, and was honorably discharged on Dec. 29, 1966.
Most of Sherrill’s active service was spent at Camp Lejeune, N.C., and his records showed no personal decorations, no disciplinary actions and an honorable discharge, Shotwell said.
Gene Pickett, a Tinker Air Force Base spokesman, said Sherrill had been a small arms instructor while a member of the 507th tactical fighter group until 1984, when he joined the Oklahoma Air National Guard.
Neighbors said Sherrill lived alone in a house in Oklahoma City that he had shared with his mother until her death several years ago.
Delores Coleman, who lives a couple houses away from the Sherrill residence, said that when she moved in 18 years ago neighbors told her to watch out for ″crazy Pat.″ She said she seldom saw him outside and that he mostly stayed to himself.
Postmaster General Preston R. Tisch ordered the flag flown at half-staff at all post offices, and about 100 people attended a 25-minute noon prayer service in this affluent city of 34,000 people about 15 miles north of Oklahoma City. Gov. George Nigh ordered flags across the state lowered to half-staff.
It was the nation’s worst attack by a lone gunman since a rampage at a McDonald’s restaurant in San Ysidro, Calif., on July 18, 1984, left 21 people dead and 20 injured.
District Attorney Bob Macy said the gunman had one gun in his hand when he walked into the building about 7 a.m. and opened fire without saying a word. Eberhart said he was wearing his uniform.
Police said the shooting started as mail carriers were sorting trays of mail and preparing to leave on their daily routes. Most of those killed were found near their work stations. One body was found in the parking lot behind the one-story brick building.
Authorities said there normally are about 90 workers in the building at that time of day. No customers were in the post office, police said.
Vince Furlong said he heard a noise that sounded like a firecracker.
″I looked down under my tray and saw one of my good friends hit the floor with blood coming out of him,″ said Furlong, an eight-year postal employee.
Jay Aghajan said he was driving by when people began running out, and one jumped into his car and said ″Drive to the police station.″
″Everybody was running out and they were pulling one person out of the post office, too. I thought it was something like an explosion or a bomb,″ Aghajan said.
Macy said police arrived at 7:30 a.m. A hostage negotiator tried to reach the gunman and called all the telephone numbers that authorities knew would ring inside. Only once did someone answer, and then hung up, Macy said.
Lawmen began moving into the building at 8:30 a.m., and heard one final gunshot on their way in. They found three people safe in a storage room where they had taken refuge.
Wooldridge said the gunman had shot himself once in the head.
Officers found a bag with a large amount of ammunition, two .45-caliber automatic handguns and a .22-caliber handgun with Sherrill, Wooldridge said. Macy said the .22-caliber weapon apparently was not used.
Macy said bodies, spent cartridges and empty bullet clips were scattered throughout the building, ″which would indicate that he was going through the entire area.″
Six of the wounded were taken to hospitals, where three were listed in critical condition. A man was treated for shock at an Edmond hospital and a person was hospitalized with chest pains.
Among those killed was Mike Rockne, 33, the grandson of legendary Notre Dame football player and coach Knute Rockne.
Families of the victims were escorted by sheriff’s deputies to the Edmond City Hall where they were met by Postal Service officials and a minister.
″I’ve never seen anything so horrible in my life. This is a good town. Just a good, good town. I thought that that mess at the IGA was the worst,″ said Lou Thomas, 22, referring to the slayings of three workers in a supermarket back room last year.
″I know I’ve got some friends who are dead in there and I really don’t want to know who is dead in there,″ said Ms. Thomas, who lives near the post office.
″This community has suffered greatly in the last year,″ said Lawrence Clayton, director of counseling services for the United Methodist Church.
In addition to the IGA slayings and Wednesday’s shooting spree, part of Edmond was devastated last spring by a tornado. No one was killed.
A group of churches set up a disaster center at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church to care for the survivors. Pastors and counselors were on duty for counseling.