About a week ago, Mark Richard Hilbun left Kim Springer the last, and most frightening, of a string of obsessive notes. "I love you," it read. "I'm going to kill us both and take us both to hell."
Hilbun, 38, a manic-depressive patient who was fired from his job as a mail carrier in December, had been obsessed with Springer, also a mail carrier, for over a year, according to records and interviews with authorities and acquaintances.
He called often to profess his love for her, frequently left notes at her home and office, and even followed her on her mail route, even though she always rebuffed his advances, according to Springer's longtime boyfriend. The harassment got so bad that Springer took a week off work, returning to the Dana Point post office on Thursday.
That morning, Hilbun calmly walked into the post office and opened fire with a handgun, killing a male co-worker and wounding a male clerk, authorities said. Springer, who hid under a desk, was unhurt. Earlier, police said, Hilbun stabbed to death his 63-year-old mother, and also killed the family's cocker spaniel.
Thursday's outburst of violence capped a history of psychiatric problems that surfaced in Hilbun about a year ago.
Hilbun's attorney, Donald Glenn Rubright, said his client was committed to a mental hospital for two weeks last summer after being arrested for drunk driving and resisting a police officer in June. He was also charged in November with making harassing phone calls to Springer, and was suspended, then fired from his job because of his bizarre behavior.
But Hilbun's mental illness was being treated with lithium, and Rubright thought he was getting better. Rubright was shocked when he learned about Thursday's rampage. "Oh my God," said Rubright, a Santa Ana defense lawyer who represented Hilbun in the drunk driving case. "Mark was somebody who had no criminal record before this incident last year. He was in his mid-30s, had been in the military, had never been in trouble. He has been in and out of depression, but I'm stunned by this."
One morning last summer, Hilbun went to work wearing his underwear outside his pants. When Robert Gandara, a fellow mail carrier, asked him why, he put them on his head. He was sent home by the postmaster.
"A lot of people thought it was a prank and didn't take it seriously," Gandara said. "I thought Mark needed some help."
Later that same day, his neighbor, Todd Granquist, saw Hilbun throw a glass terrarium on the ground in front of his house while children were nearby, so Granquist called police.
Granquist said police scoured Hilbun's apartment, guns drawn, but he was not there. The police returned later, found Hilbun, and took him away, Granquist said.
"He had a lot of problems," Granquist said of Hilbun. "Normal people don't act like that."
Rubright, his attorney, said the first sign that Hilbun was mentally unbalanced came last June, after he was stopped by a California Highway Patrol officer near Lakewood for driving 70 m.p.h. along the San Diego Freeway.
The officer asked him to take a Breathalyzer test, but Hilbun refused. He ran back to his truck and sped away so fast he clipped the CHP officer in the knee with his vehicle.
When Hilbun was later arrested for assault on a police officer, drunk driving and resisting arrest, he made suicide threats. He was committed to a psychiatric hospital, and it was there that he was found to be manic-depressive, Rubright said. His 72-hour commitment was extended by two weeks, and doctors put him on lithium, which Rubright said seemed to help.
Hilbun pleaded guilty Nov. 9 to resisting arrest and driving under the influence, and was sentenced in December to three years' probation, $490 in fines and 350 hours of community service, according to court records. He was also ordered to take all medication prescribed by his psychiatrist.
Rubright said he had never known Hilbun to be violent, or make threats against anyone else.
"He had some serious psychiatric difficulties. . . . But he was not violent. Not at all," Rubright said.
"The CHP officer was brushed by the car, but it didn't appear to us, or the judge, that he was attempting to harm" the officer, he said. "We concluded . . . that he was in a manic phase with no medication. His thought processes were skewed."
Rubright said Hilbun was suspended from the post office after the incident. The Postal Service then fired him Dec. 8 and told him to stay away from the Dana Point office.
He was fired "for acting crazy," said Dana Point mail carrier John Gargan. "He had some restrictions and he wasn't fulfilling them, like staying away from the people at the post office, the woman he was writing and bothering."
Hilbun was in the process of appealing the firing, said Art Martinez, director of the Postal Service's Santa Ana district, which includes Dana Point.
"It was a career for him," Rubright said. "He wanted his job back."
Court records show Hilbun was arrested on Nov. 30 for making harassing phone calls in September to Springer, who worked with him at the post office as a letter carrier.
Prosecutors charged him with a misdemeanor, but the case was dismissed in February, five days before it was to go to trial. Rubright said the woman decided against pursuing the charges because he was undergoing treatment.
"She was concerned about Mark," the attorney said. "But it was not the type of situation where he threatened to do bodily harm to her. He wanted a relationship with her, he wanted to go out with her."
Steve Eberhardt, a 30-year-old machinist from Long Beach who has been Springer's boyfriend for the past three years, said that Hilbun was becoming increasingly frightening.
Hilbun had been harassing Springer, 29, of Laguna Beach since last year with notes and phone calls that essentially said he loved her and couldn't live without her, Eberhardt said. She continuously told him to leave her alone.
Hilbun sent Springer the note saying, "I'm going to kill us both and take us both to hell" about a week ago, Eberhardt said.
Springer had completed an application for a restraining order against Hilbun on Wednesday, but had not planned to file it until after she received her paycheck Thursday, because she did not have the necessary $182 filing fee, Eberhardt said.
"I knew that he would be coming after her," Eberhardt said.
Rubright said he had never been notified that Hilbun was sending threatening notes to Springer. He was surprised, he said, because he had told her to call police if she was scared or had any more problems with his client.
"In the past, there weren't any overtones of violence to her . . . although he was acting angry at the post office," Rubright said. "As part of the case, he agreed not to go anywhere near her."
A friend of Hilbun, who used to work with him at the post office, said he spent about seven hours with Hilbun on Tuesday morning and they shared a 12-pack of beer.
"He seemed more relaxed than usual," the friend recalled. "He said, 'I'm waiting for some news on reinstatement.' He really wanted to go back. I kept trying to tell him, 'Look, it's not going to happen.' He was real mad at the postmaster. He blamed him not only for the firing but all the bureaucratic crap he had to go through to try and get his unemployment.
"He looked fine," he said. "But he did say he had stopped taking his medication."
Rubright said he spoke to Hilbun a couple of weeks ago, and was pleased to learn that Hilbun had just completed the community service required by his conviction. Hilbun would have had to serve a year in jail if he had not successfully completed the community service.
"I chatted with him during the last couple weeks," Rubright said. "He didn't say anything about problems or difficulties at that time."
Rosalie Kane, who lives next door to Hilbun's mother in Corona del Mar, said that she realized something was wrong with Hilbun 10 years ago, when he threatened to kill her 9-year-old son because tree branches spilled into the Hilbun yard as he trimmed a tree. Hilbun "was always weird," Kane said. "He was always picking on women and little kids."
Granquist said that when he heard about Thursday's post office shooting, he guessed immediately that Hilbun was the gunman.
"I knew it was him after I found out people were shot at the post office," Granquist said.
When news of the shooting spread, Eberhardt said that he rushed to the Dana Point office because he feared that Hilbun was after his girlfriend.
"I was crying all the way down here, I was so worried," said Eberhardt, who has been Springer's boyfriend for three years. When he learned that she was unhurt, he said, "I'm beyond relieved."
Times staff writers Matt Lait and Richard Holguin contributed to this report from Long Beach, Tim Chou and correspondent Frank Messina contributed from Dana Point, Greg Hernandez from Costa Mesa and Kris Lindgren from Newport Beach.