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Mailman Slays 14, Self in Oklahoma Massacre : 6 Wounded in Post Office in Nation's 3rd Worst Mass Killing; Gunman Faced Possible Dismissal

August 21, 1986|J. MICHAEL KENNEDY | Times Staff Writer

EDMOND, Okla. — 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.

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