Ceremony to mark 30th anniversary of Edmond Post Office massacre
EDMOND — The University of Oklahoma Sooners will kick off another football season in two weeks, but Rick Pyle won't be able to share his father's season tickets with him.
It has been 30 years since he and his father, Jerry Ralph Pyle Jr., enjoyed a football game together.
Jerry Pyle, 51, was shot and killed as he fled from an Edmond Post Office co-worker who went on a shooting rampage — killing 14 employees, wounding six others and then turning the gun on himself.
Patrick H. Sherrill, the original disgruntled postal worker, fatally shot more people in a single day than all but one other gunman in U.S. history up to that point.
Saturday is the 30th anniversary of that dreadful day in downtown Edmond.
A memorial ceremony, which is open to the public, will start at 8 a.m. Saturday at the memorial to the victims on the south side of the post office at 200 N Broadway.
A reception will follow next door at the Edmond Fine Arts Center, 27 E Edwards.
“I still think about it,” said Rick Pyle, 53, of Duncanville, Texas. “It is
something I will never
Rick Pyle realized while talking about the anniversary that he is now older than his father, a rural carrier, was when he was killed.
“I think about the years I missed being with my father and the time my children don't have with him.”
‘Why, why, why?'
Rick Pyle isn't the only one who has a hard time every August.
Herb Rettke, of Edmond, was a city mail carrier on Aug. 20, 1986, the day of the massacre. Jerry Pyle was his brother-in-law, his wife's brother.
Rettke, 84, said he was talking on the telephone to Richard Charles “Rick” Esser, 38, his newly appointed supervisor, when the shooting started just before 7 a.m.
Esser was asking Rettke to come into the office on his day off.
Esser was the first person shot by Sherrill, 43, a part-time carrier.
“I was on the phone when I heard a big bang,” Rettke said. “He was shot while sitting in his chair at his desk.”
When Rettke arrived at the post office, Jerry Pyle was lying on the parking lot with a poncho covering his lifeless body.
Police Capt. Tom Custer had spotted Jerry Pyle when he first arrived. He said he took his poncho from his patrol car and placed it over the body because he thought it needed to be covered.
“It was just a waste,” Rettke said. “I always wonder why, why, why? I still visit Jerry's grave at Gracelawn. My late wife, Lynda's grave is there, too.”
Rettke is an organizer of Saturday's memorial ceremony and reception. He thinks this might be the final goodbye to the victims, because three decades is a long time.
“They will never be forgotten,” said Rettke, who worked for the Postal Service for 14 years, retiring in 1992. “It is 'bedded in your mind.
“The ones who were wounded not only carry it in their mind, but in their body.”
‘He will never forget'
Gene Bray, 84, still lives with the pain from Sherrill shooting him in the back. The bullet ripped through one of his kidneys and lodged in his stomach.
He spends most of his time now in his wheelchair or electric scooter. Bray attributes most of his health issues to the injuries caused by one of the three guns Sherrill carried into the post office in his mail bag.
“I just knew I was going to die. I kept praying to God to let me live — and he did,” Bray said as he conversed with the help of his wife, Lois, because his hearing has gone bad.
Gene Bray regained consciousness to find himself surrounded by a pool of his own blood. In excruciating pain, he pulled himself up and stumbled through the only open door in the building. Doctors told him if he had gotten to the hospital a few minutes later, they wouldn't have been able to save him.
“He was never the same,” Lois Bray said. “He had multiple falls. Physically he was never the same.”
Still, Gene Bray has to cope with the terror that comes with the nightmares.
“He will never forget,” Lois Bray said. “He will have a nightmare and say, ‘He's coming. He's going to shoot me.' I have to reach over and calm him down.”
The Brays, who moved from Edmond to Lawton eight years ago to be near their youngest daughter, never know when the nightmares might surface. Talking about the shooting and each anniversary can trigger horrible episodes.
“You can't control your brain,” Gene Bray said. “You just have to try to let go. It hurts so bad. I lost so many friends.
“You have to make sure in life you are ready to go. Don't know how you make it without God.”
‘It was a bad day'
Jerry Reed, 83, became emotional as he talked about watching his friends and co-workers being shot one at a time before he and mail carrier Barbara Kiespert ran from the post office.
“I knew it was shooting going on, and I knew I had to get out of there,” said Reed, of Edmond. “I didn't want to run. I didn't know where he was. We almost waited too long.”
Reed, who retired from the post office after 20 years, looked at the list of names of those shot and killed and remembered something about all of them.
“Bill Nimmo, he was hurt the worst,” Reed said. “He almost died. He got better and retired from the post office. He was a city carrier.”
Patti Welch, 27, a clerk, died only four and a half months after she was married. Reed called her a sweetie.
Judith “Judy” Walker, 40, also was an Avon representative. She was shot in the chest but survived.
Kenneth W. Morey, 49, was a rural carrier who lost his life that day, Reed said.
“It was a bad day,” Reed said. “Almost the worst day of my life.”
After things calmed down, Reed said, he took off driving by himself for two or three hours.
“I had to get away and clear my mind,” Reed said. “It is hard to imagine this happened even though I was there.”
Reed and Rettke, still friends 30 years later, said the post office employees were like family.
They got together each year at Rettke's home to build a float for the LibertyFest parade. They celebrated with parties for birthdays and Christmas and regularly had cookouts.
Sherrill was never part of that group. They called him a loner, someone who didn't do a good job.
Rettke, a union representative, once attended a meeting where Sherrill was reprimanded.
“He was suspended because he took a bin of circulars and sat them on the ground at the trailer park and left it for people to get when they wanted,” Rettke said. “I don't think he said a word at that meeting.
“He was very, very distant. He had been counseled before.”
No one knew much about Sherrill except he was a quiet man.
“How could anyone go in there with such hatred?” Rettke asked. “Why didn't he just shoot himself? He should be responsible for his actions at work.”
• Patricia Ann “Patty” Chambers, 41, part-time clerk
• Judy Denney, 41, part-time clerk
• Richard C. “Rick” Esser Jr., 38, supervisor
• Patricia Gabbard, 47, clerk
• Jonna Ruth Gragert, 30, clerk
• Patty Jean Husband, 48, supervisor
• Betty Jarred, 34, clerk
• William “Bill” Miller, 30, rural carrier
• Kenneth W. Morey, 49, rural carrier
• Leroy Phillips, 42, rural carrier
• Jerry Ralph Pyle Jr., 51, rural carrier
• Paul Michael “Mike” Rockne, 33, letter carrier
• Thomas W. “Tommy” Shader Jr., 31, part-time clerk
• Patti Lou Welch, 27, clerk
• Patrick Henry Sherrill, 44, shooter
• Michael Bigler, then 36, bullet wound across shoulders
• Gene Bray, then 54, bullet entered back, caused internal injuries
• Eva Joyce Ingram, then 45, bullet entered neck, passed through lung and entered right arm
• William “Bill” Nimmo, then 41, bullet passed through arm, entered chest and damaged several organs before exiting right side
• Steven Vick, then 24, bullet entered abdomen, causing internal injuries, and exited right side of chest
• Judith “Judy” Walker, then 40, shot in the chest
Sources: The Oklahoman archives, U.S. Postal Inspector's report
Diana Baldwin has been an Oklahoma journalist since 1976. She covered the Oklahoma City bombing and covered the downfall of Oklahoma City police forensic chemist Joyce Gilchrist misidentifying evidence. She wrote the original stories about the... Read more ›