In a scene similar to more than a dozen deadly outbreaks of violence in post offices across the country, a U.S. Postal Service clerk walked into a crowded mail distribution center in Palatine, Ill., on Tuesday morning and opened fire with a gun, authorities said.
As terrified employees stampeded for the doors, the gunman shot a fellow clerk in the jaw and chest as the clerk stood at a time clock. He then strolled downstairs into the lobby and shot another clerk twice in the chest.
The suspect, identified as Dorsey S. Thomas, 53, a 23-veteran of the Postal Service with a clean work record but possible mental problems, led police on a car chase to his Northlake home before he was arrested on charges of attempted murder, authorities said.
The shooting victims were Mike Mielke, 41, of Round Lake Park, who was in critical condition Tuesday evening at Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights, and Steve Collura, 45, of Schaumburg, who was in stable condition at Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge.
The shootings came just one month after Postal Service officials had announced a crackdown on violence, vowing to fire any employee bringing a gun to work.
That edict had been prompted by the July 9 fatal shooting in California of a Postal Service supervisor by a disgruntled employee. In the past 12 years, 35 supervisors and co-workers have been killed by postal employees.
While postal authorities tried Tuesday to downplay the seriousness of the problem, pointing out that there are 800,000 postal workers, critics say many long-standing problems continue to fester within the Postal Service, creating a fertile ground for such violence.
The workplace stress is caused, experts say, by factors such as enormous hostility between management and workers, pressures from competing private delivery services and a strong union system that prevents the firing of incompetent or lazy workers.
“The violence reflects the frustrating work environment, where you cannot hire the best workers and fire the worst - that’s the root of the evil,” said Van Seagraves, a former postal employee who published a newsletter about the Postal Service for 15 years.
“Supervisors engage in harassing tactics to enforce a modicum of discipline, and that only engenders more frustration and anger,” Seagraves said.