Clark French collapsed 20 years ago today outside the Royal Oak post office, caught in the gunfire of disgruntled postal employee Thomas McIlvane.
Today, he remembered.
Today, he still carries wounds, but says the worst are not the wounds left by the gunshots that killed four of his co-workers. "It's been easier to get over the gunshot wounds," he said, than the issues that festered inside the post office and that he believes ultimately contributed to the deadly rampage on Nov. 14, 1991.
Clark was among a handful of former employees who marked the tragedy outside the post office in downtown Royal Oak while postal employees held their own memorial inside the building, away from the eyes of the media.
on Nov. 14, 1991, after an arbitration hearing that did not go well. When it was over, four co-workers were dead, four others were injured, and McIlvane had turned the gun on himself.
After the shootings, Clark, of Sterling Heights, left the post office, where he was an alternate union steward at the time of the shooting, to go back to school. He is now a civil engineer.
Today, he remembered that day that changed his life and prompted a congressional investigation into what a U.S. House panel described as a "powder keg" leading to a tragedy that could have been avoided.
Clark said that although McIlvane was ultimately the one who pulled the trigger and was responsible, the situation was untenable.
"Management was playing a game," he said.
He leaped out a window and survived
Ronald Jones, also an employee 20 years ago, remembers the day like it was yesterday. Jones, who was at the post office the day, remembers the moments frequently, often when he's watching a movie that jogs a memory. Jones said when McIlvane began shooting, he was walking to a supervisor's desk, backed up against the wall and leaped out a window.
Jones, along with fellow postal workers Alen Jones and Martin Lauretti, were among the small group of people who gathered in front of the Royal Oak post office Monday morning at 8:48 a.m. They marked a day that most of Royal Oak and the nation would perhaps like to forget – the day when disgruntled letter carrier McIlvane killed colleagues before turning the gun on himself.
'It was a preventable tragedy'
Lauretti, who lives in New Baltimore, worked for 30 years at the Royal Oak post office before being transferred to the processing center, where Alen and Ronald Jones work as well. "It was a preventable tragedy," he said Monday, remembered the day. "Management would push people ..."
Monday, there were wreaths placed at the scene as the trio and others waited for the chance to remember with workers still at the post office. That would not happen; a decision was made to hold a memorial inside the office, said Mary Poole, who eventually came out of the post office to mark the day, along with partner Bethany Schryburt. Poole's cousin, Mary Benincasa, was killed in the rampage.
Workers pay their respects
The decision was made to have the memorial service inside the post office so employees could honor those people who still work there while remembering those killed in the tragedy, said Edward Moore, a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service in Detroit. About 50 employees who were there on Nov. 14, 1991, still work at the Royal Oak post office.
Each employee was given an opportunity to speak, he said. The goal of the still-evolving plan for the day, Moore said, is for "everyone who visits to have a sense of peace."
Letter carrier John Dick attended the short memorial ceremony inside the post office at 8:48 a.m. Dick, who did not work at the post office in 1991, said he attended to show his respect for co-workers.
Postal workers held hands for a moment of silence, Dick said. “There were some people there that were confused and disappointed,” he said. “But there was no display of outrage. It would not be an appropriate place to show that kind of emotion even if there was.”
Past workers and members of the victims’ families joined postal workers, he said, describing the mood as “tender.”
Dick spoke to Postmaster Jeff Helmuth before the ceremony. “He’s having a rough day. I think the district got nervous when they started hearing all the news reports,” Dick said. “Today has brought out a lot of emotions.”
David Raub, of Northville, was an engineer with at the time of the attack. When emergencies such as the Nov. 14, 1991, shootings took place all facility personnel became security and first responders.
Beaumont employees immediately set up the perimeter for an emergency trauma center.
"We had to set up and barricade curious folks from coming in," Raub said. It was a tragic time for all involved, he said. "I came here today to honor those that lost their lives and those still living with the memory," he said.