Fatal shooting is reminder of risks and latest in attacks on federal workers

Joe Davidson
Columnist November 25, 2013

No motive. No suspects.

All we know is a letter carrier was gunned down on the street as he delivered mail in the Landover/Cheverly section of Prince George’s County on Saturday night.

Joe Davidson writes the Federal Diary, a column about the federal workplace that celebrated its 80th birthday in November 2012. View Archive

The police report is stark, without emotion or detail:

“The victim is identified as 26-year-old Tyson Barnette of the 14000 block of Lord Marlborough Place in Upper Marlboro. He was a U.S. Postal Service employee, on duty at the time of the murder.”

The Prince George’s police say there is no information about who did it or why “that can be released.”

Barnette’s death is the latest in a recent string of homicides of federal workers and contractors. Aaron Alexis, a Defense Department contractor, shot up the Washington Navy Yard in September, killing 12 before he was gunned down by police.

On Nov. 1, Gerardo Hernandez, a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officer, was shot dead at his post in the Los Angeles International Airport. The gunman apparently carried a TSA hatred so great that he went to the airport specifically to shoot its workers. Paul A. Ciancia was wounded by police and charged with murdering a federal officer. Hernandez was shot 12 times, according to the Los Angeles County coroner’s office. Ciancia also allegedly shot two other TSA officers and a third person.

Now Barnette.

At this point, officials are not saying whether the shooting was linked to his work or not. They won’t say whether he was robbed. The sparse police document says officers found Barnette in the 1600 block of Reed Street in Landover: “He was pronounced dead on the scene.”

Rewards totaling $125,000 have been offered for the arrest and indictment of those responsible. Maybe that will draw out the information needed to catch the killer or killers.

Somebody knows something.

Barnette’s cousin, Marlos Barnette, said the letter carrier was a top-notch football player and wrestler at Northwestern High School in Rock Hill, S.C.

“He loved his family,” Marlos said.

A man visiting his mother, who lives close to the crime scene, said he heard what sounded like two guns. One made a “big boom.” The other sounded like a rapid-fire pistol. The man said he didn’t see anything. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was concerned about retribution.

He did say Reed Street, with its single family homes, is “very quiet . . . not much goes on here.”

Like the police, the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) had little to say about the case.

“We don’t know who did it. We don’t know why they did it. It’s senseless, and it’s tragic,” NALC President Fredric Rolando said.

“The exposure that gives us the privilege of saving lives, putting out fires and stopping crime as we deliver mail in every community throughout this country is the same exposure that puts us at risk every day.”

Neither the union nor the Postal Service (USPS) made Barnette’s colleagues available for interviews.

Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe, however, said that every day, USPS employees work 220,000 routes. “We have a lot of interaction with the American public,” he said.

“Any assault is concerning to us,” he added, “but it’s a small number compared to the number of visits to America’s households every day.”

There were 159 assaults on letter carriers in fiscal 2012, 151 last year and 21 in fiscal 2014, which began Oct. 1, according to Chief Postal Inspector Guy Cottrell. They were robbed 52 times in 2012, 67 times last year and 14 times in fiscal 2014.

That’s not much, given the number of letter carriers on every street in every city every week. But one is too many, particularly when an assault ends in death.

To help prevent attacks on postal workers, supervisors in the Washington area held a mandatory “stand-up talk” with employees. They were told about Barnette’s death, advised that “protecting yourself is paramount” and read safety tips, including:

“Focus first and foremost on your own personal safety. Don’t lower your guard or

rely on ‘street sense’ to keep you safe.

“Be aware of your surroundings and think about what situations could put you at

risk.

“Don’t be a target. Leave high-tech electronic devices at home, and don’t wear

flashy jewelry. An overstuffed wallet in your back pocket also is an attractive

target for would-be thieves.”

Good advice, but too late for Barnette.

Twitter: @JoeDavidsonWP

Lori Aratani contributed to this report. Previous columns by Joe Davidson are available at wapo.st/JoeDavidson.

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