A mailman, enraged because he might lose his job for poor performance, walked into his post office early Wednesday morning with three pistols in a cloth sack, opened fire on his fellow workers, killing 14 and wounding six others, then killed himself with a bullet to the head.
The killing spree in this sleepy bedroom community just north of Oklahoma City was the third worst mass murder by a single gunman in U.S. history. The most deadly occurred on July 18, 1984, when James O. Huberty shot down 21 people at a McDonald’s restaurant in San Ysidro, Calif., and the second worst in 1966, when Charles J. Whitman killed 16 and wounded 31 from a tower at the University of Texas in Austin.
The Edmond killer was Patrick H. Sherrill, 44, a mail carrier who had been given a poor performance report by his supervisor on Tuesday.
Sherrill, who had worked for the postal service for the last 18 months, entered through the back door and opened fire with guns in each hand, shooting at anyone who moved in the 20,000-square-foot work area in the rear of the post office.
“He didn’t have any preference about who he was shooting--women and men, black and white. It was just anything that was moving,” said Vince Furlong, a clerk who escaped through a side door. “People were scrambling everywhere and he was shooting at everyone who was moving.”
‘Real Quick Shots’
The killing began at about 7:05 a.m., when Sherrill, carrying two .45-caliber pistols and a .22-caliber handgun in a bag, walked into the modern red brick post office wearing his letter carrier’s uniform. Without warning, and apparently without saying anything to anyone, Sherrill began his killing.
“I heard two real quick shots and then a single shot, but I thought it was a bunch of the guys clowning around, or maybe they had dropped a (mail) tray,” Furlong said. “But then I saw my friend fall with blood all over him. Then I heard another shot, and someone yelled, ‘No! No!’ and then another (shot), and someone screamed, ‘Oh my God!’ ”
Furlong dived behind a case where letters are sorted, heard more shots and screams and saw another postal worker running, holding his bleeding side. Furlong ran for a door, he said, but it was locked, as was the janitor’s room. In desperation he tried the side doors.
“I looked up the aisle, and there was two people lying on the floor. Then I heard a supervisor yell, ‘Get out of here, you crazy son of a bitch!’ Then there were three shots and he got her.”
The last door on Furlong’s side of the building was open, and he made his escape. He jumped on the hood of a passing car and ordered the driver to take him to the nearby police station.
But others were trapped inside.
Bob Macy, the Oklahoma City district attorney, said Sherrill shot five women, killing four of them, as they huddled in their three-sided work stations with no place to escape. In another part of the post office, he did the same to four others. He found people who tried to crawl under tables and killed them also.
Police Surround Building
And Macy said one young worker was found dead still holding a bundle of newspapers in his arms when police officers entered the post office about 45 minutes after they had surrounded and cordoned it off.
In Washington, Meg Harris, a spokeswoman for the postal service, confirmed that officials in the Edmond office had begun the paper work required to fire Sherrill from his part-time job.
Harris said Sherrill had told fellow workers that he had served in the Marine Corps in Vietnam. However, Lt. Col. John Shotwell, a Marine spokesman, said Sherrill’s record indicates that he had spent his three-year hitch entirely in the United States, most of it at Camp Lejeune, N.C., where he was a communications and electronics technician and reached the rank of corporal.
In Edmond, Macy said Sherrill was an expert marksman and a weapons instructor with his military reserve unit.
He said the rear of the post office was littered with spent shells and ammunition clips.
When the shooting began, there were more than 75 workers in the post office, including clerk Roger Newsom. He, like Furlong, thought someone was playing a practical joke, possibly lighting a few firecrackers. But, when he realized the sounds were gunshots, he ran for the front of the post office.
Running for Safety
“He’s shooting people, he’s killing people!” Newsom heard a letter carrier scream. He ran out of the building, where he saw a fellow worker, Gene Bray, already wounded but running for safety.
“The guy came out and shot him, then he went back in,” Newsom said. “A couple of carriers grabbed him (Bray) and carried him to the sidewalk and put him in an ambulance. Bray was listed in stable condition Wednesday afternoon. Two of the other five who were wounded were in critical condition.
One of those, Michael Bigler, was shot in the back as he fled but pretended to be dead. Another worker, Tracy Sanchez, was not hit but did the same thing.
At a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Lt. Mike Wooldridge of the Edmond police described his department’s role in the shootings.
He said police units were at the scene within a minute of learning that shots were being fired inside the post office but that entering the building was delayed because officers believed Sherrill was holding hostages.
“We tried to make contact within the post office for 45 minutes,” by using bull horns and trying to telephone Sherrill, Wooldridge said. Finally, the Edmond SWAT team went in through a side door, where it found the carnage, including Sherrill’s body.
Wooldridge defended the police decision to delay entering the post office, saying there was no way of knowing how many hostages Sherrill might be holding and what he might do if he knew that officers were closing in.
He said also that Sherrill had locked some of the doors before beginning his rampage, and postal officials confirmed that other doors were chained shut, as they always are at night and in the early morning.
In Washington, Postmaster General Preston Robert Tisch ordered flags at all post offices nationwide lowered to half-staff indefinitely.
Police gave this list of those Sherrill killed before slaying himself: Patricia Chambers, 41, of Wellston; Judy Denney, 39, of Edmond; Rick Esser, 38, of Bethany; Patricia Gabbard, 47, of Oklahoma City; Bill Miller, 30, of Piedmont; Kenneth Morey, 49, of Guthrie; Jonna Gragert Hamilton, 30, of Moore; Patty Husband, 49, of Oklahoma City; Betty Jarred, 34, of Oklahoma City; Lee Phillips, 42, of Choctaw; Jerry Pyle, 51, of Edmond; Mike Rockne, 33, of Edmond, Tom Shader, 31, of Bethany and Patti Welch, 27, of Oklahoma City.
Rockne was identified as the grandson of legendary Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne.
In addition to Bray and Bigler, the injured were listed as William Nimmo, 40, of Edmond, critical condition; Judith Walker, 40, of Edmond, critical condition; Steven Vick, 24, of Oklahoma City, stable but fair condition, and Eva Joyce Ingram, 45, of Edmond, stable but fair condition.
Neither the police nor postal officials were able to supply much information about Sherrill. He served as a Marine from 1964 to 1966 and had worked twice for the postal service.
The first time was in 1982, when he worked at the Oklahoma City Post Office. But Richard Carleton, the postal service general manager in Oklahoma City, said Sherrill quit after being told he was not learning his job fast enough. Carleton said he had no other information on Sherrill, except that he had also worked at Tinker Air Force Base and for the Federal Aviation Administration in the Oklahoma City area before returning to postal work 18 months ago.
Don Smith, a spokesman for the Veterans Administration in Washington, said the last contact the agency had with Sherrill was in 1980, when he was treated on an outpatient basis for an unspecified illness at a VA hospital in Oklahoma City.
Carleton said Sherrill had been disciplined Tuesday by Supervisor Bill Bland for “non-performance.” However, he refused to elaborate on what that meant. Bland was late for work Wednesday and escaped the shooting.
Larry Varcelli, a steward with the postal union in Oklahoma City, said Sherrill had called his office twice Tuesday, trying to arrange a transfer to the main post office.
Varcelli said he had been told by a fellow union officer that Sherrill said his employers were giving him a hard time and “I gotta do something now.”
Fellow workers did have some impressions of Sherrill. Bill Lobdell, a letter carrier, remembered him as a solemn man.
Newsom hardly knew him at all, but Furlong’s memory was one of distaste.
“He’d screw up and then make the same mistake again,” he said. “He carried my route once. He didn’t know how to be a mailman. He was discourteous to people on the street. I had people mad at me the next day because he carried the mail. He couldn’t even find the WalMart, and it’s the biggest store in town.”