A Year of Grief

Questions Persist About Goleta Postal Shootings

by Drew Mackie

A brief pause in the rain provided a calm backdrop to the
remembrance service held on Tuesday at the Goleta Postal
Distribution Facility, in which postal officials dedicated olive
trees in memory of the six workers slain in the shooting nightmare
that unfolded there one year ago. Now, the line of trees and a
plaque stand to remind all passing through the facility of Ze
Fairchild, Maleka Higgins, Dexter Shannon, Nicola Grant, Guadalupe
Schwartz, and Charlotte Colton.

Although many in the approximately 200-person crowd appeared
moved by the ceremony, not all the families of the victims
attended. Some stayed away because they were opposed to the
ceremony’s being held at the site of the shootings and to the
actions — or inaction — of the U.S. Postal Service in the aftermath
of the tragedy.

For the family members, post office employees, and public
officials present, the grief was palpably fresh. During his address
to the crowd, Father Jon Stephen Hedges acknowledged that the
healing process had only begun. “Even the ground itself needs to be
healed,” Hedges said, as several attendees wept openly. At a loss
to depict the magnitude of suffering caused by the shootings,
Goleta Postal Distribution Facility Manager John Byars said, “No
words can describe how this tragedy has impacted us.”

Although Byars said he has had direct contact with the families
of the victims throughout the healing process, many of those who
chose not to attend Tuesday’s memorial said they wished to avoid
such statements as his, which they perceive to be empty. Sherie
Higgins, the mother of Maleka, claims that her daughter’s former
employer has not done enough since the murders to improve safety at
the facility or to console the families involved. “The day after my
daughter was killed, two women from internal affairs were at my
door,” Higgins explained. “That’s the only thing we’ve heard
since.” In the intervening time, Higgins feels the Postal Service
has erred continually, culminating in planning the memorial at a
time when many people were at work. “And why does it have to be in
the parking lot of the plant where my daughter was killed?” Higgins
asked. “A lot of us can’t even go to [the nearby] K-Mart because of
what happened.”

Charlene Ramos, the sister-in-law of Guadalupe Schwartz, said
the unsafe conditions that led to the shooting persist. “They say
it’s a safe facility, but if by that they mean six dead employees,
then they’ve reached their goal,” she said. Ramos, who attended a
separate private memorial service with the Higgins family, said she
is frustrated by the fact that Schwartz’s family never received the
counseling postal officials promised them. Ramos added that
Schwartz’s children never received benefits from the postal
workers’ union, as they were not dependents and their father was
already deceased.

At the ceremony, Postal Inspection Service spokesperson Renee
Focht said the Goleta plant had been deemed safe. “The plant had
been surveyed both before and after [the shootings]. That’s
standard operating procedure,” Focht said. A post office employee,
who would speak to The Independent only on condition of anonymity,
said the Goleta facility’s main entrance has been modified so that
anyone entering the parking lot must present identification and
enter a personal security code. “It’s more adequate than what
they’d been doing before,” the employee said. “But the most likely
person to start a shooting spree would be a current worker, not a
former worker.” The employee admitted that if outsiders wanted to
break in, they probably still could.

A year after losing her daughter, Higgins’s main goal was to
work toward peace of mind. For her, this includes uncovering
details from the night of January 30, 2006, that she believes the
Post Office is withholding, as well as exposing the allegedly tense
working environment that has driven postal workers to murder.
“Someone needs to tell the truth about what happened to Jennifer
San Marco while she was working there. Someone needs to investigate
this further, but none of us has the money,” Higgins said. “Nobody
but me or some of the family members care to find the answers.” In
the meantime, Higgins has also implemented a the Maleka Higgins
Memorial Fund, to which people can contribute by stopping in a
donating at the main branch of Santa Barbara Bank & Trust.

Many of those who attended the remembrance service declined to
reveal their thoughts on the one-year anniversary. Focht, however,
chose to focus on the event’s familiar atmosphere. “We’re all
members of the same postal family,” she said. “And if anything like
this happens to anyone in the family, it’s a very sad thing.”


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