If she had worked her normal 11 p.m.-7 a.m. overnight shift at the Goleta postal annex last Monday night, Maleka Higgins would be alive today. Instead, the 28-year-old new mother arranged to come in two hours early Monday so she could take her eight-month-old daughter Emily on a Tuesday morning outing; Higgins, a 10-year Post Office vet, was gunned down by a deranged former coworker shortly after arriving to work Monday night, one of seven killed in the deadliest shooting spree in Santa Barbara County history. “She just wanted to spend time with her baby,” said mother Sheri Higgins, a former Independent employee and freelance music writer.
Higgins explained that Maleka was still adjusting to her new life as a wife and mother — she and husband Pablo would have celebrated their first wedding anniversary next week — and had been trying to land a custodial job that would have allowed her to work days. “It was crazy out there at night,” said Higgins. “There were fist fights, people yelling at each other,” she said. Higgins reported that Maleka endured stressful working conditions, verbal abuse by managers, and a flex worker’s brutal graveyard schedule; it wasn’t uncommon for Maleka to work 14 days straight, her mother explained. Flex workers, said Higgins, are technically classified as temporary employees, meaning they’re denied the job security and benefits afforded permanent workers, length of service notwithstanding.
At a gathering of shocked postal workers at the DoubleTree Hotel Tuesday night, Maleka’s surviving coworkers recalled her as warm and outgoing, someone who organized potlucks, Christmas parties, and gift exchanges at work. Joseph Riley, who worked with Higgins, said, “The place could be desolate — then Maleka would drive into the parking lot and get out of her car and you knew you were going to have a good night.” Other former coworkers echoed Riley’s remarks, crediting Maleka with instilling a family atmosphere at the annex. While her workplace family picks up the pieces and resumes the grind of getting the mail out, Maleka’s mother, husband, and daughter — and six more families shattered between Lompoc and Oxnard — begin a long and painful recovery.