With hundreds of mourners gathered Sunday in the Thunderdome at UC Santa Barbara, families of the six postal workers slain by a rampaging former colleague last month received the U.S. Postal Service’s highest honor on behalf of the fallen employees.
Al Iniguez, the service’s highest-ranking executive in California, intoned the name of each worker and embraced grieving relatives as he presented them with the Postmaster General’s Medal of Freedom, a gold medallion bearing the likeness of Benjamin Franklin, the architect of the nation’s postal system.
Iniguez lauded the slain night-shift workers at a mail-sorting facility in Goleta as “public servants of the highest order.” Postmaster General John Potter was to have made the presentations, but the weekend’s record East Coast snowstorm grounded planes and kept him from leaving Washington, D.C., Iniguez said.
The memorial at UCSB, just a short distance from the scene of the Jan. 30 shootings, came after a week of funerals for many of the victims of Jennifer Sanmarco, 44.
A part-time clerk with a psychological problem that caused her to leave the postal service on a medical disability in 2001, Sanmarco turned her gun on herself after killing the others. Before stalking into the sorting facility, she had gone to her former condominium complex and fatally shot a neighbor who had criticized her loud, irrational outbursts before Sanmarco moved to rural New Mexico two years ago.
The neighbor was Beverly Graham, 54, a retired telephone operator. The slain postal workers were: Charlotte Colton, 44; Ze Fairchild, 37; Nicola Grant, 42; Maleka Higgins, 28; Dexter Shannon, 58; and Guadalupe Swartz, 52. Each was remembered at Sunday’s memorial by the personal traits that became suddenly and tragically newsworthy two weeks ago: Colton’s tireless work with her sons’ Scout troops, Higgins’ love of reggae music, Fairchild’s Laotian background and her husband’s gift to her of a single red rose the day before she died.
“We celebrate their acts of kindness, smiles, birthdays and roses,” Goleta Mayor Jonny Wallis told the crowd.
In addition to the Medal of Freedom, the families were given letters of condolence from local officials. Rep. Lois Capps (D-Santa Barbara) presented them with flags that had flown briefly over the White House.
Afterward, postal workers exchanged hugs and tears, as they have so many times since the shootings.
Memories of their colleagues lingered.
Sherri Vieth was an employee who trained carriers 20 years ago, at about the same time that Colton started her job training clerks and other workers on the night shift. Retired two years ago as postmaster at San Simeon, Vieth said she came to the memorial from her San Luis Obispo County home largely as a tribute to Colton.
“I just had to come down for this,” she said. “Charlotte was such a spark.”