By Jeff Mullin
It was just another summer Wednesday in Oklahoma.
The state was waking up to another day promising near 100-degree temperatures, when the airwaves began to crackle with shocking news coming out of Edmond.
Something was happening at the Edmond Post Office. There were reports of shots fired and possible casualties.
At the time, early on the morning of Aug. 20, 1986, we didn’t know the half of it.
At about 7 a.m. that day Patrick Sherrill, an employee of the Edmond Post Office who had a history of discipline problems on the job, walked into his workplace carrying three handguns, two .45s and a .22, and began systematically shooting his fellow employees.
Sherrill, wearing his postal uniform, didn’t say a word as he methodically walked through the building, shooting first one fellow employee, then another.
His fellow postal workers were busy sorting trays of mail in preparation for their daily routes. Most of those killed were found near their work stations.
“I just happened to turn around and saw two of my carriers and a supervisor go down,” letter carrier Orson Cordis told The Associated Press.
Some employees thought the loud noises they heard were part of a prank, that someone had set off fireworks inside the building. But that notion was quickly dispelled.
“I looked down under my tray and saw one of my good friends hit the floor with blood coming out of him,” postal employee Vince Furlong told AP.
The first to die was Rick Esser, a 38-year-old supervisor. Esser was one of two supervisors who counseled Sherrill about his job performance the day before the shooting. The other, Bill Bland, was late to work that day and thus was spared.
One of those killed was Jonna Gragert Hamilton, 30, a night postal clerk who lived in Moore but who grew up in Douglas, graduating from Covington-Douglas High School in 1974. She studied nursing at Autry Technology Center and was a licensed practical nurse. She continued her nurse’s training at Central State University in Edmond. She had worked at the Edmond Post Office for four years.
As Sherrill walked through the building, he closed and locked doors behind him, as if to try and ensure that no one would escape. He paused only to reload his weapons.
By the time Patrick Sherrill turned one of his guns on himself, he had killed 14 people and wounded six. The whole incident took only 15 minutes. In that time Sherrill fired some 50 rounds of ammunition.
The massacre shocked state residents. Oklahoma was not used to violence on this scale. This was nine years, remember, prior to April 19, 1995. Things like this were not supposed to happen here.
Twenty years have passed since that terrible day, and questions of why Patrick Sherrill went on his murderous rampage linger. Whether he was driven by some inner demons, or simply exploded because of pressure related to his job, will never be known.
There have been other incidents of workplace violence since Aug. 20, 1986, including some involving the post office. But Sherrill’s shooting spree helped coin the unfortunate phrase “going postal,” which implied postal workers were under so much pressure they were all apt to snap and resort to violence at any time. Subsequent research, however, has proven postal employees are no more likely to kill their fellow employees than workers in any other industry. Between 1992 and 1998, according to a Washington Post article, only 16 of 6,719 homicides in the work place were committed by post office employees.
All of which is of no comfort, of course, to the families of the dead, whose lives were forever and inalterably damaged by Patrick Sherrill’s killing spree.
They have gone on with their lives, of course, they had little other choice. But while the 20 years since the Edmond Post Office shootings might have dulled the pain of their loss, no amount of time can ever completely eliminate it.
Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle.
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