A fired mail carrier with a history of psychiatric problems went on a rampage Thursday, fatally stabbing his mother and later killing a former co-worker at a post office here, authorities said. Three other people were wounded in a series of four attacks that police blamed on the same gunman.
The events unfolded just hours after a disgruntled mail employee in suburban Detroit opened fire in a Postal Service garage, killing one person and wounding two others before turning the gun on himself. U.S. Postmaster Gen. Marvin Runyon in Washington ordered an immediate investigation into the two attacks, saying that "in spite of our efforts to prevent violence, senseless tragedy has happened within the ranks of the Postal Service."
The suspect in the Orange County attacks, identified as 38-year-old Mark Richard Hilbun of Dana Point, was still at large late Thursday despite a massive manhunt by police.
Police suspect that Hilbun, who has been hospitalized at least twice in recent months for treatment of manic depression, stabbed to death his mother and her cocker spaniel at her Corona del Mar home Thursday morning.
Armed with a handgun, he then drove to the Dana Point post office, where he shot two employees, authorities said. Fleeing the scene in a pickup truck with a kayak strapped on top, he drove a few blocks and allegedly shot a Dana Point man in his garage and, about five hours later, shot and critically wounded a motorist in Newport Beach who apparently was following him, police said.
Postal workers said they feared Hilbun even before the attacks because of his "infatuation" with a co-worker. Hilbun was fired last December in part because he had been "stalking" mail carrier Kim Springer, 29. He allegedly followed her on her route on occasion and harassed her, authorities and co-workers said.
He continued to contact Springer even after his firing, sending her a note last week that threatened to "kill us both," said Springer's boyfriend, Steve Eberhardt, 30, of Long Beach.
On Tuesday, officials at the Dana Point post office called a staff meeting to warn employees to contact a supervisor if they saw Hilbun. They also advised workers to take extra security measures to guard against possible problems, several postal workers said.
"We were warned that he was on the loose, so to speak, and told this was a possibility," said one mail carrier, who fled the building Thursday after he heard shots at a nearby work station. He asked not to be identified out of concern for his safety.
"What can you do? You lock the building up--if someone wants to get in and get at someone, they're going to. This was a real shame," the man said.
Police and witnesses said that Hilbun entered the building through a loading dock sometime before 9:45 a.m., yelling, "Kim! Kim!" He screamed for workers to get down on the floor and opened fire, killing Charles T. Barbagallo, 42, of San Clemente and slightly injuring a second worker who rushed toward him. He also fired through a door at the office postmaster, who had locked himself inside and escaped harm, officials said. The shootings occurred in an employee area closed to the public.
An ex-postal employee who called Hilbun one of his best friends described him as "a hell of a good mailman" who loved his job.
"It really surprises me, especially the guy he shot. That's his best friend. And the other guy he wounded was like one of his best friends. And his mother, he liked his mother. She's the only one he talked good about," said the man, who said he did not want his name used while Hilbun remained at large.
"The way I look at it, he shot two of his best friends and his mother. . . . I don't want to be next on the list."
The Postal Service has been plagued by high-profile shootings in its branches, with 34 people killed and 12 wounded in a dozen attacks since 1983. But spokesman Larry Dozier said this was the first known shooting in an Orange County post office.
Authorities said that after the post office shootings, Hilbun drove off in a pickup truck with a kayak on top, then allegedly shot a man who was working in his garage a few blocks away.
"The fellow said, 'This is a holdup' and put a gun to me," victim John Kersey, 65, said in an interview at Mission Hospital Regional Medical Center in Mission Viejo, where he was in stable condition. "When I had my face on the floor he hit me over the head with the butt of a gun, I think. Then I got up and started scuffling with him."
The gunman fired at least one shot from a revolver, hitting Kersey in the arm.
About half an hour later, police went to the Corona del Mar home of Hilbun's mother, Frances Hilbun, 63, hoping to get information on her son. Believing the suspect might be inside, police waited to enter the home. But neighbors said they found it suspicious that they had not heard any barking from the woman's dog all morning, and police broke down the door to the home about 12:30 p.m., authorities said.
Inside they found the body of Frances Hilbun in her bedroom and her dog in the kitchen. Both had suffered multiple stab wounds, police said.
Newport Beach Police Sgt. Andy Gonis said investigators believe the woman was probably killed in the morning before the attack at the post office. Two witnesses said they saw the suspect in the neighborhood between 7:50 and about 9 a.m.
Hilbun was next seen at the post office, authorities said.
In the aftermath of the post office shootings, there were reports from some people at the scene that the suspect may have telephoned the facility early in the morning, threatening to harm those inside. But police would not confirm or deny these accounts.
Hilbun had worked there as a postal carrier for at least four years, officials said, but he was fired Dec. 8 in part because he had been stalking Springer.
Court records show that he was arrested in November on charges of harassing her with obscene telephone calls in September. He left Springer one message telling her that "I've decided that now that you're not going to talk to me, I'm going to kill myself," according to a police report taken in the case.
Springer dropped the charges after she learned that he was being treated for his psychiatric problems. In exchange, Hilbun agreed to stay away from Springer, authorities said. But the woman recently decided to apply for a restraining order against him and was planning to file the papers Thursday, Eberhardt said.
Postal Inspector David Smith said Hilbun had left messages for Springer at work and at home, putting letters in her mailbox at home. "It appears as if there was a romantic interest on the part of Hilbun toward her," said Art Martinez, a district manager for the Postal Service.
Springer had been so worried about her safety that she had taken a week and returned to work Thursday, Eberhardt said. Two postal inspectors had been guarding Springer over the weekend and the first part of this week for her protection, he said.
"I don't know why they stopped, especially on her first day back," Eberhardt said.
Springer hid in the office when she heard Hilbun coming and was unharmed in the attack. She was in protective custody Thursday night.
Records show that Hilbun was convicted in November of driving under the influence and resisting arrest in connection with a traffic stop in Lakewood last year. He was sentenced to community service and three years' probation.
His attorney in that case, Donald Rubright, described Hilbun as a manic-depressive who has been hospitalized for his mental condition.
In light of the threats against Springer, Eberhardt said, he believes that postal officials should have been better prepared for the prospect of violence.
"Where was the postmaster? He should have had an idea at least that something like this might happen," Eberhardt said.
In the Newport Beach shooting, police said the victim was apparently following Hilbun on Cliff Drive because she had noticed magnetic placards on the side of his truck, and she wanted to ask him about them.
"We have confirmed that it is the same suspect, based on a witness doing a positive ID in a photo lineup," Lt. Paul Henisey said.
The woman suffered multiple gunshot wounds and is in stable but critical condition at a local hospital. She is expected to undergo surgery today, police said.
The daylong search for Hilbun was filled with hits and misses for police.
His kayak was found at a Dana Point home. Scott Waltz, a landscape construction worker, returned to his Reef Bay home to find a broken window and a blue kayak in his garage. Dots of blood trailed down the sidewalk. Police believe that the suspect dumped the kayak in the garage, picking the house at random.
Later in the afternoon, a stakeout of the San Juan Capistrano home of the suspect's sister proved less productive. A SWAT team waited for several hours there, ready to move, but authorities determined that Hilbun was not there. The search continued Thursday night.
Police said the license plate on Hilbun's truck is 2BTF706, or it may be 4EO6099.
The Dana Point incident occurred only hours after a postal mechanic in Dearborn, Mich., walked into a Postal Service garage carrying a handgun and a shotgun. Authorities said Larry Jasion, 45, apparently opened fire because he was upset that a female co-worker had gotten a clerical job he wanted.
One man was shot to death, a man and woman were wounded and another man suffered chest pains and a hip injury after falling while running away.
Shortly afterward, Jasion's body was found in the garage with a self-inflicted bullet wound to the head, authorities said.
Contributing to this report were Times staff writers Leslie Berkman, Timothy Chou, Marla Cone, Lily Dizon, Len Hall, Greg Hernandez, Matt Lait, Thuan Le, Dave Lesher, Eric Lichtblau, Kristina Lindgren, David Reyes, Marilyn Young, Jodi Wilgoren, Nancy Wride and Eric Young, and Times correspondents Anna Cekola, Bob Elston, Shelby Grad and Frank Messina.
DEADLY RAMPAGE * 9:30 a.m.: Suspect kills postal worker Charles Barbagallo; wounds Peter Gates, another worker. * 10 a.m.: John Kersey is shot in his garage on Seaside Drive in Dana Point. * 10:30 a.m.: Suspect's mother, Frances Hilbun, and her dog are found stabbed to death at her home in Corona del Mar. * Early afternoon: At a Dana Point home, suspect abandons the kayak his truck was carrying. * 3 p.m.: Suspect shoots female motorist in Newport Beach. * 6:35 p.m.: SWAT team surrounds and searches homes of suspect's sister and her neighbor in San Juan Capistrano.
MORE INSIDE VICTIMS: Two co-workers were shot; so was a retiree who encountered the gunman a few blocks from the post office. Police later found the suspect's mother stabbed to death, along with her dog, at her Corona del Mar home. A19. THE SCENE: Witnesses tell of pandemonium on the street as workers fled into a bicycle shop, a gas station, a beauty shop or ducked behind cars. The gunman, meanwhile, "was just casually walking away. . . . It was surreal." A18. HISTORY: In the past decade, 34 people have been killed and 20 wounded in 12 post office-related shootings around the nation. Story and list of incidents, A19. STALKERS--After the Los Angeles murder of actress Rebecca Schaeffer, the state Legislature passed the nation's first law making it a crime to maliciously follow someone "with the intent of instilling fear or death or serious injury." A18.
South County Shootings
Mark Richard Hilbun, a fired Dana Point letter carrier, Thursday shot and killed an employee at that city's post office and injured another, authorities said. Hilbun was also believed to have killed his mother, and wounded two other people in separate incidents. 1. Gunman enters employee entrance 2. Shoots and kills letter carrier 3. Orders employees: "Down on the ground!" 4. Shoots clerk 5. Heads for office of postmaster, who slams his door shut; suspect shoots hole through door 6. Walks out public entrance to sidewalk; raises his pistol but doesn't shoot 7. Gunman re-enters building 8. Exits rear employee entrance 9. Slowly walks around employee parking lot 10. Escapes in his truck; heads east on Del Prado Avenue THE CONTINUING RAMPAGE
Events following the post office shootings: A. Seaside Drive: Dana Point resident shot in his garage B. Marigold Avenue: Gunman's mother found slain; dog also killed C. White Sands Street: Suspect abandons kayak his truck was carrying D. Cliff Drive: Gunman shoots female motorist Sources: Eyewitnesses, police; Researched by APRIL JACKSON, DAVE LESHER and MARILYNN YOUNG / Los Angeles Times