01/31/2006

Ex-postal employee kills six, commits suicide at Calif. mail plant

By TIM MOLLOY
Associated Press Writer

GOLETA, California- A female former postal employee killed six people and critically wounded another before committing suicide at a mail processing plant, in one of the deadliest postal shootings in the United States in 20 years, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Jim Anderson said Tuesday.

Deputies responding to a call of shots fired about 9:15 p.m. Monday (0515 GMT Tuesday) found two people dead outside the Santa Barbara Processing and Distribution Center.

Two women inside the building were taken to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, where one was pronounced dead upon arrival and the other was listed Tuesday in critical condition with a gunshot wound to the head.

Deputies later found four additional bodies, including one believed to be that of the shooter, whose name has not been released. That woman died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, authorities said.

Names of the victims were not immediately available. Sgt. Erik Raney of the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department said the victims were believed to be current postal employees.

It was one of the deadliest postal shootings since a string of high-profile cases in the mid '80s and early '90s, including one in which a part-time letter carrier killed 14 people in Edmond, Oklahoma, before taking his own life.

In a statement, U.S. Postmaster General John E. Potter said families of the victims in Monday's attack were being notified and counselors would be available to the families and employees at the plant.

"Our heartfelt prayers and condolences go out to the families of the victims and to our employees who have suffered through this tragic incident," Potter said.

Deputies overnight swarmed the postal center as they searched for the shooter. The rampage sent 50 to 60 employees running from the sprawling complex and prompted authorities to warn nearby residents to stay indoors.

It was unknown how many guns were used, how the shooter entered the complex or whether a suicide note was found, Raney said. The shooter is believed to be a Santa Barbara County resident, he said.

The 200,000-square-foot (18,580 square-meter) distribution center, one of the largest in the area, is located near the University of California, Santa Barbara campus and across the street from a fire station. Witnesses ran there immediately after the shooting started, according to Santa Barbara County Fire Capt. Keith Cullom.

Postal employee Charles Kronick told KEYT-TV in Santa Barbara that he was inside the building when shots rang out.

"I heard something that sounded like a pop, and then I heard a couple seconds later, another pop, pop, pop," Kronick said.

His boss came running over and told him to get out of the building, Kronick said. "We all hightailed it out real quick."

The center is 90 miles (145 kilometers) northwest of Los Angeles in a picturesque area about a mile from the ocean with mountain backdrop.

About 300 people are employed at the plant. They were told to report Tuesday to another nearby processing center.

"In the coming days we will work with postal officials and law enforcement officers to assist the families of the victims and employees who have been traumatized by this horrible event," William Burrus, president of the American Postal Workers Union, said in a prepared statement.

_ Staff Writer Christina Almeida in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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