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Memorial of the 1986 post office incident in Edmond, Oklahoma.

Going postal, in American English slang, means becoming extremely and uncontrollably angry, often to the point of shooting people dead, usually in a workplace environment.

The expression derives from a series of incidents from 1983 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 1986 and 1997, more than 40 people were gunned down by spree killers in at least 20 incidents of workplace rage.


The earliest citation is 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 have made attempts to stop people from using the saying. Some postal workers, however, feel it has earned its place appropriately.[1]

December 31, 1993 in Los Angeles Times:

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,"[2]

The term gained popularity due to the movie Clueless (1995) by Amy Heckerling.[3]

Notable postal shootings

Edmond, Oklahoma in 1986

On August 20, 1986, 14 employees were shot and killed and six wounded at the Edmond, Oklahoma, post office by a postman, Patrick Sherrill, who then committed suicide with a shot to the forehead.[4]

Ridgewood, New Jersey in 1991

A former United States postal worker, Joseph Harris, shot and killed two employees at the Ridgewood, New Jersey post office on October 10, 1991.[5]

Royal Oak, Michigan in 1991


The U.S. post office in Royal Oak

On November 14, 1991 in Royal Oak, Michigan, Thomas McIlvane killed five people, including himself, with a Ruger 10/22 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.[6]

Double event in 1993

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 two (including himself). In Dana Point, California, Mark Richard Hilburn killed his mother, then shot two postal workers dead.[7][citation needed]

As a result of these two shootings, in 1993 the Postal Service 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 Postal Service unilaterally eliminated these positions as part of its downsizing efforts.[8]

Goleta, California, in 2006

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.[9]

Police later also identified a seventh victim dead in a condominium complex in Goleta, California where San Marco once lived.[10]

According to media reports, the Postal Service had forced San Marco to retire in 2003 because of her worsening mental problems. Her choice of victims may have also been racially motivated; San Marco had a previous history of racial prejudice, and tried to obtain a business license for a newspaper of her own ideas, called The Racist Press, in New Mexico.

This incident is believed to be the deadliest workplace shooting ever carried out in the United States by a woman.[11][12]

Baker City, Oregon, in 2006

Grant Gallaher, a letter carrier in Baker City, Oregon, pleaded guilty to the April 4, 2006 murder of his supervisor.[13] He reportedly brought his .357 Magnum revolver to the city post office with the intention of killing his postmaster. Arriving at the parking lot, he reportedly ran over his supervisor several times. Subsequently he went into the post office looking for his postmaster. Not finding the postmaster, he went back out to the parking lot and shot his supervisor several times at close range, ostensibly to make sure she was dead. He then reportedly fired several more bullets into the supervisor's car.

Grant Gallaher reportedly was on a new route for three weeks and had felt pressured by a week-long work-time study and an extra twenty minutes added to his new route.[citation needed] On the day of his rampage, he reportedly was ahead of schedule on his route and his supervisor brought him more mail to deliver. He allegedly decided to take the matter up with his postmaster on his cell phone and then went home to get his .357 Magnum revolver to exact his revenge. The work climate had reportedly improved from what it was in 1998, the year a union steward, age fifty-three, at the Baker City post office committed suicide.

Henning, Tennessee, in 2010

On October 18, 2010, two employees were shot and killed at a postal facility in western Tennessee.[14]


Researchers have found that the homicide rates per 100,000 workers at postal facilities were lower than at other workplaces. In major industries, the highest rate of 2.1 homicides per 100,000 workers was in retail. The next highest rate of 1.66 was in public administration, which includes police officers. The homicide rate for postal workers was 0.26 per 100,000.[15]

However, not all murders on the job are directly comparable to "going postal". Taxi drivers, for example, are much more likely to be murdered by passengers than by their peers. Working in retail means one is exposed to store robberies. In a 1993 joint hearing of the United States Congress in its review of violence in the U.S. Postal Service, NIOSH estimates were cited as part of the record for the 1980s where it is noted that during this timeframe 13% of the employee-directed homicides occurred at postal facilities by current or former employees, where less than 0.75% of the total full-time civilian labor force was employed.[16]

Depictions in popular culture

  • In the episode "Blood" of The X-Files, several people in a small rural town are driven to killing sprees by the psychotropic effects of an experimental insecticide, coupled with subliminal messages in their workplace machines. The first person featured in the episode is a recently terminated postal worker (William Sanderson) who is the last person to go on a spree, before the killings are stopped.
  • In the 1995 film Jumanji, the gun salesman asks "You're not a postal worker, are you" to Van Pelt (Jonathan Hyde) when he attempts to seek a replacement weapon for an assassination mission.
  • In the 1996 film Jingle All the Way, Myron (Sinbad) constantly complains about racism and having bad Christmases, and that he was "fired" from being a postal employee although he was taking a break. He ranted about putting homemade bombs in the mail as a way to be defiant to the cops at the radio station when he and Howard (Arnold Schwarzenegger) were on a mission to find a Turbo Man doll.
  • In episode 4 "The Birth", of the 1996 first-person shooter video game Duke Nukem 3D, Level 6 is called "Going Postal". It takes place in a post office and when Duke enters the counter area, he says "Looks like it's time for me to go postal!". The level is modeled after a real post office at 501 East Oates Rd., Garland, Texas.[17]
  • Postal, a 3rd person shooter video game from the 1990s. A film adaptation, also called Postal was developed.
  • A disgruntled postal employee fugitive is a side mission in the video game True Crime: Streets of LA.
  • In Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight, the heroes go searching for weapons and find a large cache of grenades and guns, but no bullets in the room of Wally Enfield (Charles Fleischer) a recently fired postal worker.
  • In an episode of the animated television series CatDog, Dog says "Let's get postal!" before carrying out a plan to ambush his mailman.
  • Detective Frank Drebin must face down armed 'disgruntled postal workers' as part of the opening sequence to the comedy film, Naked Gun 33 1/3.
  • In "Homer Loves Flanders", an episode of the animated television series The Simpsons, when Ned Flanders fires a gun upon a mailman during a dream sequence, the mailman removes his own gun from the mailbag and fires back. In another episode, Sunday, Cruddy Sunday, Nelson Muntz asks a mailman if he has ever gone on a shooting spree.
  • In the Dilbert episode "Ethics", when the World's Smartest Garbageman introduces Dilbert to the reanimated Ben Franklin to help solve an ethical dilemma he is having, one of the facts about the Postal Service Dilbert cites that are contrary to Franklin's vision for the service (accidentally causing Franklin to die again, though the Garbageman brings him back) is that "the term 'going postal' refers to losing your mind, going crazy, and opening fire on large groups of innocent people".
  • Going Postal is the 33rd Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett.
  • In an episode of the animated television series Rocko's Modern Life, while Rocko is riding in a crowded subway car, a postman mentions he has been feeling disgruntled ever since he got laid off. When the other passengers quickly vacate the car, the postman reveals he did it simply for "swinging room" when he starts playing on the handles.
  • In the Seinfeld episode "The Old Man", Newman says that he is a postal worker, to which George asks, "Aren't those the guys that always go crazy and come back with a gun and shoot everybody?" Newman replies, "Sometimes...because the mail never stops coming in, you gotta get in out..."
  • In the 1999 film Virus, Woods exclaims "He's gone postal" when Richie goes insane.
  • In the video game Saints Row 2, there's a COPS inspired mini-game called FUZZ. One of the tasks is to bring down a maniac postal worker.
  • An independent comic book titled Pete the P.O.'d Postal Worker follows the misadventures of the titular Pete, a heavily-armed and armored postman who casually murders anyone who hassles him.
  • In the episode "The Waitress gets married" from the TV show It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Mac and Dennis worry about Charlie going postal if he finds out that The Waitress, a girl he is obsessed with, is engaged.
  • Eminem says in the 2010 song "Almost Famous" (Recovery, Interscope/Aftermath/Shady 2010.)'I go bezerker than a fed-up post-office worker'
  • In the videogame "Dead Rising 2" the main character "Chuck Greene" has to fight a post-office-worker who throws packages filled with bombs and uses a shotgun.

See also


  1. Vick, Karl, "Violence at work tied to loss of esteem", St. Petersburg Times, Dec 17, 1993
  2. "The Year in Review 1993", Los Angeles Times, December 31, 1993
  3. "Movies - Clueless"
    Scripps Howard News Service, "Don't Go Postal: Here is a Guide to 'Clueless' speak", Chicago Tribune, Jul 26, 1995, p. 16.
  4. "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.
  5. "A former postal worker commits mass murder.". The History Channel website. 2010. Retrieved 2010-11-11.
  6. Levin, Doron P. (November 15, 1991). "Ex-Postal Worker Kills 3 and Wounds 6 in Michigan". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-02-26.
  7. Gregory K. Moffatt, Blind-Sided: Homicide Where It Is Least Expected, at 37 (2000).
  8. 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"
  9. 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.
  10. "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".
  11. "Seven dead in California postal shooting". 2006-01-31.
  12. "US ex-postal employee kills six". BBC News. 2006-01-31. Retrieved January 4, 2010.
  13. "Gallaher Sentenced in Baker County Circuit Court". Hells Canyon Journal: p. 3. August 16, 2006.,1355376&dq=grant-gallaher&hl=en. Retrieved 19 September 2010.
  16. Musacco, 2009
  17. Walkthrough of scene (accessed on Aug 14, 2009)

Further reading

  • "Beyond Going Postal: Shifting from workplace tragedies and toxic workplace environments to a safe and healthy organization" is the title of a book by [Stephen Musacco, Ph.D.], which examines the paramilitary, authoritarian postal culture and its relationship to toxic workplace environments and postal tragedies.
  • Going Postal: Rage, Murder, and Rebellion: From Reagan's Workplaces to Clinton's Columbine and Beyond is the title of a book by Mark Ames, which examines the rise of office and school shootings in the wake of the Reagan Revolution, and compares the shootings to slave rebellions (ISBN 1-932360-82-4).
  • Going Postal is also the title of a book by Don Lasseter, which examines the issue of workplace shootings inside the USPS (ISBN 0-7860-0439-8).
  • Lone Wolf, by Pan Pantziarka is a comprehensive study of the spree killer phenomenon, and looks in detail at a number of cases in the U.S., UK and Australia. (ISBN 0-7535-0437-5).
  • Bob Dart, "'Going postal' is a bad rap for mail carriers, study finds", Austin American-Statesman, September 2, 2000, p. A28.

External links

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