Going Postal: How a Series of Horrific Slayings Created the Common Catchphrase

Nowadays the phrase ‘going postal’ is fairly benign in meaning, and is generally associated with someone who goes a little crazy and loses their temper. It’s rooted in horrific crimes and work-related shootings that involved employees of the United States postal service.

In the mid-80s and 90s a series of deadly slayings occurred that entered the phrase ‘going postal’ into the collective consciousness of society. These shootings seemingly happened as disgruntled employees sought to take pent up rage—commonly believed to be brought on by stressful work conditions—out on coworkers and other innocent bystanders.

The first incident occurred in 1986 when part-time mail carrier Patrick Sherrill murdered his supervisor. He arrived to work with a mail bag full of pistols and ammunition and carried out the deed. He then killed another mail carrier and an office clerk, and injured more when he opened fire.

Sherrill barricaded himself in the building with 11 hostages, who he also killed before turning the gun on himself.

Afterwards it came to light that Sherrill was under-performing at work, and was receiving on onslaught of complaints from people on his route.

After Sherrill there were a few years of unremarkable incidents. Then in October and November of 1991, two more high-profile attacks would drag U.S. postal workers into the spotlight once more.

Joseph M. Harris was dismissed from a New Jersey branch of the postal service because of alleged harassment of his supervisor.

Harris went to his former supervisor’s home and murdered her with a samurai sword. He then shot her fiancé and fled. He then went to the post office where he used to work and murdered two employees working the night shift.

He shot at a third worker, who fled to the police. When authorities arrived on the scene, Harris attacked them with a pipe bomb and engaged in a lengthy standoff.

He was eventually taken into custody.

A little over a month later a postal worker named Thomas McIlvane in Michigan walked into his office and opened fire on his coworkers, killing three and injuring six. He then turned the gun on himself and later died from the wounds. He was apparently upset because he was terminated for fighting with customers.

Two years later in 1993, another Michigan postal worker opened fire on coworkers. He killed one person, injured two others and then killed himself before he could be taken into custody. His name was Lawrence Jasion, and he was apparently upset after he was passed over for a job promotion.

That same day, Mark Richard Hilburn from California killed his mother and then two postal workers in a terrible shooting.