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3 Killed, 8 Injured in Shooting Rampage at Post Office : Crime: Fired mail carrier opens fire on co-workers, turns rifle on self. Incident is latest in series of revenge slayings by ex-postal employees.

November 15, 1991|DONALD WOUTAT and AMY HARMON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

ROYAL OAK, Mich. — A fired mail carrier stormed through the loading dock of the post office here Thursday and opened fire with a sawed-off rifle, killing three of his former co-workers and wounding seven before turning the weapon on himself.

Authorities identified the gunman as Thomas McIlvane, 31, a former employee at the suburban Detroit post office, whose appeal of his firing for time card fraud had been turned down Nov. 8.

McIlvane was listed in critical condition late Thursday at a local hospital, as were three of his victims. Doctors were to determine early today if McIlvane was brain dead and whether to take him off life support.

It was the fourth mass revenge killing in five years, and the second in a month, committed by disgruntled employees of the U.S. Postal Service. Twenty-four people, most of them supervisors, have died in the shooting sprees. There have been shootings in at least five other post offices since 1983.

In October, a fired Ridgewood, N.J., postal worker armed with two machine guns, grenades and a Samurai sword killed four people, including a former supervisor. In 1989, a postal worker in Escondido, Calif., killed two co-workers and himself after killing his wife at home.

On Thursday, shaken former co-workers of McIlvane said that because of prior threats, they had been warned to watch for him and to call police if they saw him near the building.

But police and witnesses said he walked through the open loading dock and roamed through the building, appearing to seek out victims who had been involved in his personnel dispute with the post office.

Co-worker Juanita McKeever said McIlvane grabbed one woman and put the rifle to her head but then let her go, saying, " 'You're not the one I want.' He knew what he was doing when he came in. He just blamed everyone who had anything to do with his case."

Dazed, stunned employees told of jumping for cover, barricading themselves in offices and leaping out windows to escape the gunfire. The episode began at 8:48 a.m. and lasted about six minutes, police said.

Postal authorities said the shootings were confined to offices and back rooms of the building, and that McIlvane did not confront any members of the public. Customers ran out into the street when they heard gunshots.

"Everybody said if he didn't get his job back, he was going to come in and shoot," postal worker Bob Cibulka said. "Everyone was talking about it."

Police characterized McIlvane as a man who has had "numerous police contacts" and had been charged several times with disorderly conduct and assault.

McIlvane's permit to carry a concealed weapon had been revoked earlier this year after police in a neighboring suburb reported that he appeared to have "serious mental problems," said Oakland County prosecutor Richard Thompson.

However, the shootings seemed likely to focus as much attention on the Royal Oak post office as on McIlvane.

The facility has been the subject of a U.S. Senate investigation because of an "unusually large" number of complaints by employees and customers, according to Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.). Levin said he met with Postmaster General Anthony M. Frank about the Royal Oak problems on Oct. 10 and was promised a prompt investigation.

"The Postal Service provided us with an interim, verbal report last week and acknowledged management problems in the Royal Oak operation," Levin said. "They pledged to put into effect a special labor-management council."

Former co-workers of McIlvane described him as a victim of harassment by new management at the post office.

"They needled him and needled him and needled him. They pushed him till he flipped. Everyone's got a breaking point," said Joan Mason, a clerk at the post office for 21 years.

The Royal Oak postmaster, Daniel Presilla, was transferred to Royal Oaks from Indianapolis after the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, found an "atmosphere of distrust and dissatisfaction" in Indianapolis.

The GAO found the bad feeling in Indianapolis followed a reorganization that took place between 1986 and 1988. Nearly 200 employees complained to GAO investigators about favoritism in promotions, excessive discipline and racial discrimination.

At least one of the employees killed Thursday, Christopher Carlisle, 33, manager of branch station operations, was transfered to Royal Oak from Indianapolis along with Presilla, according to Levin's office.

The other dead were identified as Keith Ciszewski, 37, a labor relations specialist, and Mary Benincasa, 32.

Postal workers who huddled across the street from the post office after the shootings told of low morale and constant labor-management friction since Presilla was named postmaster.

Presilla could not be reached for comment, and it was not known whether he was present during the shootings.

An agent of the federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Bureau described the murder weapon as a Ruger .22-caliber carbine normally used for hunting. McIlvane bought the rifle in 1988 at a local discount department store. The barrel had been sawed off, making it illegal, said prosecutor Thompson.

"I am shocked and deeply saddened by the tragic incident," Gov. John Engler said from Lansing. "Our prayers and sympathy are with the families, friends and co-workers of the victims."

Staff writer Denise Gellene in Los Angeles also contributed to this story.

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