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Reflections on "Going Postal" in Light of, but not Making Light of the Santa Barbara Isla Vista Shooting Tragedy

Updated on June 9, 2014
Mel Carriere profile image

Although many are mystified by his mysterious moniker, Mel Carriere is a San Diego mailman who writes about the mail, among other things.


Murder Fashion Trends?

Crimes, like clothes, seem to go in and out of style. Even psychotic mass-murderers seem to follow trends, almost as if the mass media is setting the agenda for whatever sort of killing sprees are going to be in vogue today. A while back we had the day trader shootings, which seemed to be followed by a wave of killings on middle school and high school campuses, most notably that of Columbine. But then these kids graduated and moved on to college and the murders followed suit, to the point where now the American public is being bombarded on a regular basis by news of killings on University campuses.

Long before college killings came into style, however, it was postal workers that were going over the top and committing horrible atrocities against their supervisors and coworkers. The term "going postal" actually entered the American English vernacular as a result of these crime binges and is still used on occasion, mostly as a joke, but with a nervous edge to it. I'll walk into a Starbucks and some wag will see my uniform and say "Oh a postal worker, I hope you're not carrying any weapons!"

The joke is tired, people. It's been an awful long time since post offices were the scene of murderous rampages. And although nobody is waxing nostalgic for those "good old days" of post office murder and mayhem it is interesting, and highly disturbing, to analyze the age old "going postal" trend in the light of this recent killing spree in the Santa Barbara Isla Vista community. Bloody rampages like this appear to follow trends, and although going postal long ago went out of style, murder in general is still going strong in other venues. Furthermore I'm afraid that we, the members of the American public, have nobody else to blame but ourselves and our insatiable appetite for disturbing news.

The purpose of this hub, therefore, is to analyze the "going postal" trend that started it all and then to speculate upon how the mass media, prompted by our own taste in news, fuels and creates the environment that is necessary to spark a massacre such as the one that took place in Isla Vista.

Are you missing the news because you are hopelessly lost in some Brown Dwarf orbit?  Here's a recap.
Are you missing the news because you are hopelessly lost in some Brown Dwarf orbit? Here's a recap. | Source

In case you live in another solar system...

Scientists just discovered a companion brown dwarf star for our own sun named Nemesis, so in case you live in that star system and not our own and haven't heard the news about the Isla Vista rampage I will summarize it here for you.

On May 23rd, 2014 a college student at the University of California, Santa Barbara named Elliott Rodger went on a killing rampage in his black BMW. The assaults took place in the unincorporated community of Isla Vista in Santa Barbara County, California. Armed with over 400 rounds of ammunition Rodger killed seven people, including himself, and wounded 13. In a highly disturbing and pathetically narcissistic online manifesto Rodger claimed that his inability to procure sexual favors from female coeds at the University sparked his homicidal outburst.

It seems like the news about Isla Vista is already dated, however. I began writing this hub approximately a week ago and on June 5th, a few days after starting, still another college campus rampage took place at Seattle Pacific University. Murder does not rest - the dark, twisted "reality TV" that began about thirty years ago with a string of highly publicized postal shootings continues in all of its grim and gory detail.

I had a personal connection to the tragic events that took place at the Escondido, CA Orange Glen post office.
I had a personal connection to the tragic events that took place at the Escondido, CA Orange Glen post office. | Source

My Personal Proximity to "Going Postal"

Even though postal shootings seem to have completely ceased in the last eight years or so, the murderous stigma is still attached to postal workers. In spite of the epidemic-like outbreak of college shootings these days nobody running into a college student tells him "Oh, you're not going to shoot me are you?" Yet postal employees still get this all the time and it is only partly in jest. To this day some people are still creeped out by letter carriers and keep their distance.

I was affected by the "going postal" frenzy even before I entered the postal service. Three years before I became a postal employee the term "going postal" became more than just a series of distant, disconnected news stories to me. In 1990 I was working at a bank distribution center with a retired letter carrier who had a close connection to the murders that occurred at the Escondido, Orange Glen post office in August of 1989. This ex letter carrier coworker of mine had actually been a personal friend of the murderer, John Merlin Taylor, who killed his wife before taking the lives of two postal employees and then killing himself. My retired letter carrier friend had been in the hospital recovering from a heart attack when the shooting rampage at the Orange Glen post office took place. When I asked him if he believed being at work that day would have made him a victim as well he could only shrug his shoulders and say "I don't know."

Unlike the angst ridden, vociferously malcontent Elliott Rodger, John Merlin Taylor has been described as "happy go lucky" and a "model mail carrier." My friend told me that Taylor was having problems with his supervisor at work, but this is the same mumbled mantra of every employee who walks through the post office doors on a daily basis. Quite surprisingly Taylor did not kill his supervisor, but actually shot to death two fellow letter carriers that were among his closest friends. This was obviously the source of my coworker's doubts about whether he would have survived the massacre, and his feeling that his timely heart attack might actually have been a blessing of sorts.

This fountain and statue stand as a memorial for the victims of the 1986 postal killing spree in Edmond, Oklahoma.
This fountain and statue stand as a memorial for the victims of the 1986 postal killing spree in Edmond, Oklahoma. | Source

How it Started

Including these Escondido Orange Glen shootings, at least 40 people have been gunned down in over 20 different acts of postal spree killings committed between 1986 and 1997. The incidents became so common during this decade of postal rampages that the phrase 'going postal' entered the vernacular around 1993. The term was first seen in print when a reporter for the St. Petersburg Times wrote " some circles excessive stress is known as 'going postal.'"

The most famous of these events, the one that put 'going postal' on everyone's radar, was the horrible massacre that took place at the Edmond, Oklahoma post office on August 20, 1986. In this case postal worker Patrick Sherill shot 20 coworkers, of which 14 died. Sherill started by killing the supervisor who had verbally reprimanded him the day before. Then, having sealed the building's exits, he proceeded in methodical fashion to kill 13 more postal employees before ending his own life with a bullet to the head. Like Taylor in the Orange Glen incident, Sherill was also a letter carrier.

Was this the only outlet for postal stress in the 80s and the 90s?
Was this the only outlet for postal stress in the 80s and the 90s? | Source

The Trend Gathers Steam

Although there had been postal shootings prior to the Edmond, Oklahoma massacre, the widespread publicity of the event seemed to set off a trend of postal killings that continued for the next 20 years.

In December of 1988 Warren Murphy killed his supervisor with a shotgun in a New Orleans, Louisiana postal facility. This was followed by the August 1989 Escondido, Orange Glen rampage described in some detail above. In 1991 a Ridgewood, New Jersey post office was the scene for the murders of four more postal employees. Joseph M. Harris, the perpetrator of the crimes, was found to have been armed with an Uzi, grenades, and a samurai sword when he was finally taken alive by police.

In the following month of November, 1991 Thomas McIlvane, a fired postal employee in Royal Oak, Michigan, killed four of his former coworkers. In June of 1992 a postal employee in Citrus Heights, California named Roy Barnes committed suicide with a pistol in front of his fellow employees on the workroom floor. Then on May 6, 1993, Larry Jasion killed a fellow employee and wounded three others at a postal garage in Dearborn, Michigan. The very same day across the country in Dana Point, California, Mark Richard Hilbun killed his mother then killed two postal workers.

There is no real reason to belabor this list. The rest of the shootings are there on Wikpedia to peruse if it interests you to do so. Interestingly enough, the postal killings continued up until 2006 and then abruptly ceased. It seems that people lost interest or became exhausted hearing about this type of crime. Perhaps postal killings ceased to make a major splash in the headlines and the narcissistic, attention craving potential perpetrators of these crimes changed their minds and saved their bullets, seeing that the public really wasn't paying attention anymore. Murder had moved on.

One final postal murder merits attention, however, and this is the 2006 massacre in the Goleta, California post office, in which former postal employee Jennifer San Marco killed six postal employees. Curiously enough, the Isla Vista community where Elliott Rodger committed his atrocities is serviced by the Goleta post office. Tragic lightning sometimes does strike twice.

Although a lot of nice lip service has been paid to "Mutual Respect" in the postal service, the toxic, deadly environment still exists.
Although a lot of nice lip service has been paid to "Mutual Respect" in the postal service, the toxic, deadly environment still exists. | Source

Why has "going postal" ceased?

The United States Postal Service has expended a great deal of resources addressing workplace violence and supposedly enforcing the policy of "mutual respect," in which management and labor interact with each other in a benevolent, enlightened fashion. I suppose that there are those executives sitting at their desks at Postal HQ at L'enfant Plaza in Washington, DC who would like to pat themselves on the back and cite the lack of recent postal killing sprees as proof that these policies have been successful.

But the truth of the situation is that there still exists a fair amount of verbal and sometimes physical abuse directed against postal employees by management, and the more aggressive postal supervisors are often moved to another office until the bullying scandals they have created blow over, after which they are more often than not promoted. Last year here in a local San Diego County Post Office a letter carrier who was responding to a physical assault from his supervisor was fired, while the supervisor who initiated the violence was not disciplined. Hence we see that the Postal Service's "zero tolerance" policy toward workplace violence is more often than not a one way street. Bullying by supervisors is still not only tolerated, it is encouraged and rewarded. Bullies, in fact, are perceived to be prime upper management material.

Therefore, the toxic atmosphere that promotes "going postal" still exists. And while it is certainly welcome to those of us that go to work within the deadly confines of postal walls every day that the killings have ceased, I believe this has more to do with current media trends then any kind of enlightened management policies promoted by the postal service. Let's face it - "Going Postal" is passé, and might not garner the media attention that the narcissistic, self-absorbed, violent creatures that commit these types of crimes are craving.


Grim Reality TV

So what's next on the program after the audience gets tired of hearing about college shootings? When the current form of murderous mayhem gets boring then what new thing will the public be offered to satisfy our morbid curiosity? When the Roman Public got tired of seeing Christians eaten by lions and gladiators clashing in to-the-death combat what new tricks did the Emperor have up his sleeve to keep the people entertained? And how will our media keep us entertained? DMV massacres? Bank teller rampages? Disgruntled fast food employees? What's the next sexy trend in killing sprees?

It's almost like some sort of grim reality TV series that is deliberately orchestrated to keep the ratings and readership for the broadcast, print, and online news sources booming, but the reality of this reality TV is that the fault lies with all of us. Yes it would be easy to blame the media for everything, but if we ain't buying they ain't selling and let's face it - every time one of these rampages takes place we turn up the volume on our radios and TVs and we're all over Twitter to see what's going on. There's no use denying that there is something in the human psyche that is insatiably attracted to graphic, sensationalistic violence, and although we love to self-righteously pat ourselves on the back and say "What a monster - I could never do that," in a way we are all partly responsible for these deplorable acts. The fact that I have written this article makes me responsible too.

So what's the answer folks? Quite honestly I don't have one. We can't change human nature and so we can't change our voyeuristic tendency to intrude upon everybody else's problems and tragedies. I suppose we can vow to boycott murder and not tune in to any media outlets when one of these outrages occur, but if we don't watch the news then how are we going to know if a tornado, hurricane, or brush fire is bearing down upon us, or who is the new President of the Ukraine or whether or not our boys are going to be brought home from Afghanistan tomorrow? There are simply too many useful, informative things we get from the news media to boycott it altogether.

In the meantime the murderous trends continue. We long ago graduated from "going postal," and I'm pretty sure we'll get tired pretty soon of reading about college campus rampages, but it's only a matter of time before a new form of murder comes along that nobody thought about before, and you can bet we'll all be there watching.

Who's to blame?

On whom should we cast the lion's share of the blame for tragedies like the one that occurred in Isla Vista?

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    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 3 years ago from San Diego California

      Although the postal service gives preference to hiring veterans, I am not sure if PTSD played a role in any of these killings. It is interesting to speculate upon, as it is possible one or more of these killers from the late 70s early 80s could have been Vietnam vets. Thanks for reading and the great comment Kelly.

    • Kelly wallace profile image

      Kelly Wallace 3 years ago from Boise, Idaho

      You're article caught my eye and it was a good read. I have heard the term before and I have always attributed these cases to the fact that the US Postal Service gives preference points to Veterans when hiring. Veterans whom some may be experiencing some PTSD. Any thoughts on this?

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 3 years ago from San Diego California

      You are absolutely correct. We live in a narcissistic society that craves attention and has no compunction about taking people out who don't provide that attention. Thanks for reading!

    • ologsinquito profile image

      ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

      There is something very wrong in the society in which we live. "Going postal" is another symptom.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 3 years ago from San Diego California

      Yes the scumbag murderers are all the same, only the venues have changed. Thanks Deb for reading and commenting.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      New forms of murder and new groups of people to pick on--seems like the art of bullying has been going on for a L O N G time.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 3 years ago from San Diego California

      Yes AliciaC and with all of the people who have lost their jobs or been forced to relocate with the downsizing one would think it would be a tinderbox ready to explode but fortunately no incidents have occurred. It's mystifying to me why these "flavor of the month" murder trends take place. Thank you so much for reading and commenting.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is an interesting hub about a very sad topic, Mel. I hadn't heard the phrase "going postal" before I read this hub. What a horrible origin for the phrase. I'm sorry to hear that attitude problems are still present in the postal service.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 3 years ago from San Diego California

      Yes in spite of this democratic administration that one would think would stand up for the working man employers continue to get away with abuses all over. Thank you so much for reading and commenting.

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 3 years ago from California

      Interesting to read this Mel. I am sad that a lack of respect still seems to pervade your work environment--that seems to be the story everywhere now--

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 3 years ago from San Diego California

      I guess it's been so long now since the wave of postal shootings that people have already forgotten the origin, except for us postal workers, who still have the stigma attached to us. Thanks for dropping in, friend.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      You know, it's odd now that I think about it, but for whatever reason I never knew the origin of that saying "going postal." It never dawned on me that its origin came from such an act. Thanks for the education...and I can definitely see how that would grow old real fast.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 3 years ago from San Diego California

      Yes DDE the gun control issue is hotly debated here and people are very passionate about their gun rights. This definitely contributes to the problem of these spree killers. Thank you so much for reading and commenting.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      It is difficult to suggest or point a finger but such individuals don't have a mind of kindness. Shooting randomly at innocent people should not be. In America these incidents happen so often and that is what I fail t o understand. The gun control in none.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 3 years ago from San Diego California

      Thank you Jodah. Your words would be shouted down as pure blasphemy in a room full of God and country, gun totin' good old boys here but you do make an excellent point. My opinion is that it should be at least as hard to get a gun as it is to get a drivers license. This Rodger kid had a long history of mental illness and psychotic tendencies and he still was able to purchase several weapons. Anyhow the option you presented so eloquently never occurred to me and I think I will go back and add it. Thanks for dropping in with your insightful comment!

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 3 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Great hub Mel. I found this very interesting and well written. I had heard the term 'going postal' but never knew where or why it originated. I hadn't heard about those postal killings before. The frequency of all mass shootings in the USA is you say it now seems to be mostly schools and colleges or universities. I am sure all the things listed in your poll are contributing factors, but I still think it is the gun laws in your country and the premise that 'everyone has the right to carry a gun' is the problem. I know As an outsider looking in, it is easy to criticise....but it is the only difference I can see between the USA and other Western world countries, and why they only experience very isolated incidents of this type whereas in America it seems to happen on a regular basis. Anyway, voted up.