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Good Night, Maleka

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.

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