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Shaken Postal Workers Return as Town Copes With 'a Lot of Pain'

August 22, 1986|J. MICHAEL KENNEDY | Times Staff Writer

EDMOND, Okla. — The flowers began arriving early Thursday morning.

Those who brought them gently laid the bouquets on the lawn of the post office. By late afternoon, there were dozens of them, left in memory of the 14 postal employees murdered early Wednesday by one of their co-workers, Patrick H. Sherrill, who ended his murderous spree by killing himself with a bullet to the head.

Most people wrote only their names on the cards--Wilma and Gordon Scott, Gina Davis, Lisa Baum, the Choctaw Post Office.

"May the Lord be with thee," said a card from the White family.

Many Offer Prayers

Lori Hubbard, drove to the post office at mid-morning. She, too, had flowers from the people at her company, Gneuco Ltd.

"Everybody in the office just feels real bad for those people and we just wanted them to know they are in our prayers," she said.

After a tearful reunion inside the post office, shaken workers went about their business somberly, sorting letters at a murder scene. During the night, a commercial cleaning firm had worked to rid the building of reminders of the day before. The blood had been scrubbed away, but the overwhelming sense of loss remained.

Outside, Ron Blackwell, a letter carrier and union official, said things would never be "normal" again, that there was no way to guess how long it would take survivors to recover.

Fears Slow Recovery

"For some of us it will take longer than others," he said. "A lot of innocence was wasted in there and that won't go away overnight."

Kevin Bray, whose father, Gene, was one of the six wounded Wednesday, was at the police station to recover a pair of glasses lost during the shooting. Of his father, Bray said, "He knows it's going to be real hard walking in there again. But he will. His work is his life."

Five people remained hospitalized Thursday, three in fair condition and two in serious but stable condition. One had been treated and released.

Authorities here say they do not know what sort of psychological problems the postal workers and the families of the dead will face, but they are preparing for them.

Michael Mantell, psychologist for the San Diego Police Department, flew to Oklahoma on Thursday at the request of the state attorney general's office to head a team aimed at teaching survivors and family members how to deal with the mass killings that have staggered this bedroom community just north of Oklahoma City.

Has Previous Experience

Mantell has experience in that field; he helped counsel police in the wake of the 1984 mass murders at the San Ysidro McDonald's in which 21 people were killed.

Mantell said there were similarities between the two tragedies. Both killers were disgruntled. Both killings took place in buildings that would ordinarily be considered safe.

"I'm seeing a lot of pain and a lot of hurt," he said Thursday afternoon at St. Mary's Episcopal Church. "I just don't know what the long-term effects will be."

On Thursday, police were still gathering more information about Sherrill, a former Marine, expert marksman and postal employee for the last 18 months. The day before, Sherrill had been reprimanded by his immediate supervisor, Bill Bland, but postal officials insisted Thursday there were no plans to fire him.

Says Sherrill Not Threatened

"He did not threaten that he would be fired," said Richard Carleton, the postal division's general manager. "It was written down as a counseling. That's the first step you do in disciplining."

Carleton's statement Thursday contradicted one issued the day before by Washington postal officials. But a spokeswoman for the Postal Service in Washington said she had only been echoing what she was told by Oklahoma postal authorities.

In any case, Edmond Police Lt. Mike Wooldridge said that after the session with Bland, Sherrill had driven to the headquarters of the Oklahoma Air National Guard, where he was a weapons instructor, and had checked out one of the two .45 caliber automatic pistols that he used to kill his co-workers.

Wooldridge produced a list of items found at Sherrill's Oklahoma City home, which he described as stacked high with magazines and clothes, with pathways in between the piles.

'Neat and Orderly'

"It was neat and orderly," said Wooldridge, "but stacked up, almost to the ceiling in some places."

He said among the items found were a homemade silencer, an old Japanese rifle, two BB air pistols, boxes with targets on them, targets on the wall that were presumably mementos from pistol competitions, ham radios, a personal computer and hundreds of computer discs. Police also found videotapes of the "Worlds at War" TV program, Soldier of Fortune magazines, and copies of the English-language Soviet Life magazine. Among the books found was a copy of "Russian Made Simple."

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