Monday, August 20, 2007

August 20

On this date in 1986, 44-year-old Patrick Henry Sherrill -- a surly, part-time mail carrier from Edmond, Oklahoma -- killed fourteen co-workers in an episode that solidified the reputation of the US Postal Service as a cauldron of workplace violence. Known to many as “Crazy Pat,” Sherrill had failed at nearly every venture in his life before the Edmund Massacre. A poor student, he had made several unsuccessful attempts at college; a stint in the Marines ended with a general discharge but nothing in the way of a career. He did, however, distinguish himself as an expert with a pistol.

After his time with the Marines, Sherrill returned to live with his mother in Oklahoma, where a series of odd jobs kept Sherrill afloat while his odd behavior and unpleasant demeanor resulted in one dismissal after another. During the years leading up to the mass murder for which he would become famous, Sherrill’s conduct was nothing short of disturbing. The least worrisome of his quirks included his habit of mowing the lawn in the middle of the night; less endearing was his compulsion to peer in his neighbors’ windows and steal their dogs, which he then pitted in fights against his pit bull.

On August 19, 1986, Sherrill’s supervisors -- Bill Bland and Rick Esser -- reprimanded him. Sherrill, who had been written up twice and suspended earlier in the year, had been complaining to fellow employees for weeks, insisting that Bland and Esser were looking to fire him. To one co-worker, Sherrill ominously remarked that “they’ll be sorry everyone would know.”

The next day, Sherrill brought two semi-automatic .45 pistols and a .22 to work. After locking the door behind him, he began shooting everyone in sight. Within 15 minutes, “Crazy Pat” had taken fourteen lives and wounded a half dozen more before ending the spree with a bullet to his own head. Rick Esser was indeed numbered among the dead; Bill Bland, however, overslept and was not in the office when Patrick Sherrill arrived.

True to its legendary persistence, the Post Office in Edmund -- scrubbed and emptied of the dead and wounded -- opened for business the next morning.