Going postal

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Going postal is an American English slang phrase referring to becoming extremely and uncontrollably angry, often to the point of violence, and usually in a workplace environment. The expression derives from a series of incidents from 1986 onward in which United States Postal Service (USPS) workers shot and killed managers, fellow workers, and members of the police or general public in acts of mass murder. Between 1970 and 1997, more than 40 people were killed by current or former employees in at least 20 incidents of workplace rage. Between 1986 and 2011, workplace shootings happened roughly twice per year, with an average of 11.8 people killed per year.[1]


The earliest known use of the phrase was on December 17, 1993, in the St. Petersburg Times:

The symposium was sponsored by the U.S. Postal Service, which has seen so many outbursts that in some circles excessive stress is known as 'going postal.' Thirty-five people have been killed in 11 post office shootings since 1983. The USPS does not approve of the term "going postal" and has made attempts to stop people from using the saying. Some postal workers, however, feel it has earned its place.[2]

On December 31, 1993, the Los Angeles Times stated:

Unlike the more deadly mass shootings around the nation, which have lent a new term to the language, referring to shooting up the office as "going postal".[3]

Notable postal shootings[edit]

Los Angeles, California, 1970[edit]

August 13, 1970, Harry Sendrow, 54, a postal supervisor, was shot in the back 3 times by Alfred Kellum, 41, whom Sendrow had sent home for being intoxicated. Five hours later Kellum was found unconscious and arrested. Police officers said he appeared to be intoxicated.[4]

Edmond, Oklahoma, 1986[edit]

On August 20, 1986, during the Edmond post office shooting, 14 employees were shot and killed and six were wounded at the Edmond, Oklahoma, post office by Patrick Sherrill, a postman who then committed suicide with a shot to the forehead.[5]

Ridgewood, New Jersey, 1991[edit]

A former United States postal worker, Joseph M. Harris, killed his former supervisor, Carol Ott, and killed her boyfriend, Cornelius Kasten Jr., at their home with a katana. The following morning, on October 10, 1991, Harris shot and killed two mail handlers, Joseph M. VanderPaauw, 59, of Prospect Park, New Jersey, and Donald McNaught, 63, of Pompton Lakes, New Jersey, at the Ridgewood Post Office.[6][7]

Royal Oak, Michigan, 1991[edit]

The U.S. post office in Royal Oak

On November 14, 1991 in Royal Oak, Michigan, Thomas McIlvane killed five people, including himself, and injured five others with a rifle in Royal Oak's post office, after being fired from the Postal Service for "insubordination." He had been previously suspended for getting into altercations with postal customers on his route.[8]

For some time prior to the Royal Oak incident the service had experienced labor/management and operational problems and customer service complaints. This had drawn the attention of local media. The Office of Senator Carl Levin investigated Royal Oak, the results of which were summarized in a September 10, 1991, staff memorandum. The memorandum documented "patterns of harassment, intimidation, cruelty and allegations of favoritism in promotions and demotions ... [and] testimony relating to wide-ranging delivery and service problems" prior to the McIlvane shooting.[9][10]

Two events in 1993[edit]

Two shootings took place on the same day, May 6, 1993, a few hours apart. At a post office in Dearborn, Michigan, Lawrence Jasion wounded three and killed one, and subsequently killed himself. In Dana Point, California, Mark Richard Hilbun killed his mother and her dog, then shot two postal workers, killing one.[11] As a result of these two shootings, in 1993 the USPS created 85 Workplace Environment Analysts for domicile at its 85 postal districts. These new positions were created to help with violence prevention and workplace improvement. In February 2009, the USPS unilaterally eliminated these positions as part of its downsizing efforts.[12]

Goleta, California, 2006[edit]

Jennifer San Marco, a former postal employee, killed six postal employees before committing suicide with a handgun, on the evening of January 30, 2006, at a large postal processing facility in Goleta, California.[13] Police later also identified a seventh victim dead in a condominium complex in Goleta where San Marco once lived.[14] According to media reports, the Postal Service had forced San Marco to retire in 2003 because of her worsening mental problems. This incident is believed to be the deadliest workplace shooting ever carried out in the United States by a woman.[15][16]

Baker City, Oregon, 2006[edit]

Grant Gallaher, a letter carrier in Baker City, Oregon, pleaded guilty to the April 4, 2006 murder of his supervisor.[17] He reportedly brought his .357 Magnum revolver to the city post office with the intention of killing his postmaster. When he arrived at the parking lot, he reportedly ran over his supervisor several times. He then went into the post office looking for his postmaster. Not finding him, he went back out to the parking lot and shot his supervisor.[18] Gallaher was on a new route for three weeks and had felt pressured by a week-long work-time study and extra time added to his new route.[18]

San Francisco, California, 2017[edit]

On June 14, 2017, Jimmy Lam, 38, fatally shot three coworkers at a United Parcel Service (UPS) facility in the Potrero Hill neighborhood of San Francisco, California. Lam then shot and killed himself as police arrived at the facility. Two others were wounded by gunfire, and three people were injured while escaping.

Columbus, Ohio, 2017[edit]

Postal worker DeShaune Stewart murdered two colleagues, his supervisor and the postmaster, on December 23, 2017.[19]


In 1998, the United States Congress conducted a joint hearing to review the violence in the U.S. Postal Service. In the hearing, it was noted that despite the postal service accounting for less than 1% of the full-time civilian labor force, 13% of workplace homicides were committed at postal facilities by current or former employees.[20]

In 2000, researchers found that the homicide rates at postal facilities were lower than at other workplaces. In major industries, the highest rate of 2.1 homicides per 100,000 workers per year was in retail. The homicide rate for postal workers was 0.22 per 100,000 versus 0.77 per 100,000 workers in general.[21] The common depiction of an employee returning to work for revenge on his boss is overdone. More than half of mass workplace shooting are by current employees, and a little under a quarter are by employees who have been at their job for less than a year.[1]

Cultural impact[edit]

In the controversial video game series Postal, the player takes on the role of an insane mass murderer in the first game, and in the later series a first-person role performing normally mundane chores (such as picking up a paycheck from work) with an often gratuitously violent twist. In 1997, the USPS sued the creators of the game, Running with Scissors, over the use of the term "postal". Running with Scissors argued that, despite its title, the game has absolutely nothing to do with the USPS or its employees. The case was dismissed with prejudice in 2003.[22]

The 1997 video game Duke Nukem 3D features a level named "Going Postal", where the player explores and fights through a U.S. Post Office invaded by aliens.

The 1993 episode of Seinfeld titled "The Old Man" makes reference to the term, in a scene between the characters George and Newman, whose occupation is a USPS postal worker.

The 1994 comedy film Naked Gun ​33 13: The Final Insult includes a scene where the main character must deal with a series of escalating threats, including the sudden appearance of dozens of disgruntled postal workers randomly firing weapons in every direction.

The 1995 film Clueless is credited with popularizing the phrase "going postal" and is responsible for the term's casual usage still today.[23] The actors in the film had no idea what it meant to "go postal," since it was an uncommon phrase at the time.[24]

The title of the 2004 book Going Postal by Terry Pratchett makes reference to the contents of the novel, but in future novels of the Discworld universe characters use the term "going postal" in the common sense, apparently referring to the events of Going Postal.

As referenced on The Simpsons, during the January 31, 1999 Episode "Sunday, Cruddy Sunday", Springfield Elementary visits the post office on a class trip and Nelson asks the Postmaster:

  • Nelson: Have you ever gone on a killing spree?
  • Postmaster Bill: (laughing) Ho ho ho, nooo noo, the day of the gun toting disgruntled postman shooting up the place went out with the Macarena.

In the Brooklyn Nine-Nine episode USPIS, a self-righteous United States Postal Inspection Service agent passionate about his job is adamant that "going postal" is the term most associated with bringing goodness into people's lives, which is a view also shared by his co-workers.[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Lee, Seungmug; McCrie, Robert (2012). "Mass Homicides by Employees in the American Workplace" (PDF).
  2. ^ Vick, Karl, "Violence at work tied to loss of esteem", St. Petersburg Times, Dec 17, 1993
  3. ^ "The Year in Review 1993", Los Angeles Times, December 31, 1993
  4. ^ The Los Angeles Times (Main ed.). 14 Aug 1970. p. 34. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  5. ^ "On August 20, 1986, a part-time letter carrier named Patrick H. Sherrill, facing possible dismissal after a troubled work history". The Journal of Employee Assistance. 2005. Retrieved 2007-09-12.
  6. ^ Hanley, Robert (October 11, 1991). "4 Slain in 2 New Jersey Attacks And Former Postal Clerk Is Held". The New York Times.
  7. ^ "A former postal worker commits mass murder". The History Channel website. 2010. Retrieved 2010-11-11.
  8. ^ Levin, Doron P. (November 15, 1991). "Ex-Postal Worker Kills 3 and Wounds 6 in Michigan". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-02-26.
  9. ^ Withers, Charlie. "The Tainted Eagle".
  10. ^ A post office tragedy:the shooting at Royal Oak, report of the Committee on Post Office and Civil Service, House of Representatives, 102 Congress, ISBN 9780160386589"
  11. ^ Gregory K. Moffatt, Blind-Sided: Homicide Where It Is Least Expected, at 37 (2000).
  12. ^ Musacco, Stephen (2009). Beyond going postal: Shifting from workplace tragedies and toxic workplace environments to a safe and healthy organization. Booksurge. p. 34. the notion of 'going postal' as a myth is not supported by the overwhelming evidence to the contrary
  13. ^ Holusha, John; Archibold, Randal C. (2006-02-01). "Ex-Employee Kills 6 Others and Herself at California Postal Plant". The New York Times. Retrieved May 3, 2010.
  14. ^ "Death Toll in Calif. Postal Shooting Rises: Calif. Sheriff's Deputies Say Woman Accused in Post Office Killings May Have Also Shot Her Former Neighbor". ABC News.
  15. ^ "Seven dead in California postal shooting". CNN. 2006-01-31.
  16. ^ "US ex-postal employee kills six". BBC News. 2006-01-31. Retrieved January 4, 2010.
  17. ^ "Gallaher Sentenced in Baker County Circuit Court". Hells Canyon Journal. August 16, 2006. p. 3. Retrieved 19 September 2010.
  18. ^ a b "Gallaher sentenced for post office supervisor's murder". The Baker City Herald.
  19. ^ "Enraged naked postal worker goes on killing spree, police say". Fox News. December 24, 2017. Retrieved 30 December 2017.
  20. ^ Musacco, 2009
  21. ^ "Permanent.access.gpo.gov Report of The United States Postal Service Commission On A Safe And Secure Workplace August 2000" (PDF).
  22. ^ Calvert, Justin. "Postal court case dismissed". Retrieved 25 June 2003.
  23. ^ Skeels, Virginia. "The cast of Clueless reunites". Retrieved 5 October 2012.
  24. ^ Lang, Nico. "25 Little-Known Facts About Clueless". Retrieved 5 October 2012.
  25. ^ Pape, Allie. "Brooklyn Nine-Nine Recap: Going Postal". Retrieved August 7, 2018.

Further reading[edit]

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