1991 Royal Oak Post Office shooting: The untold story of a hero who gave his life for others

‘That’s just how he was. He thought about other people before himself’

Thomas McIlvane fired about 100 shots inside the Royal Oak Post Office on Nov. 14, 1991.

Thomas McIlvane fired about 100 shots inside the Royal Oak Post Office on Nov. 14, 1991.

He meticulously moved from office to office looking for managers and union reps. He sought vengeance on those he thought were out to get him. One of the managers he shot and killed that day is remembered for his heroic actions.

Those inside the post office kept telling the same inspiring story of heroism. The hero was 37-year-old labor relations representative Keith Ciszewski, of Livonia. He helped two women escape the gunfire that day, giving his life for theirs.

Moments before that happened, however, McIlvane had shot letter carrier and associate union representative Clark French in the back at point blank range. French ran as best he could across the parking lot to get away.

“I heard gunshots and saw glass breaking at Keith’s window,” said French. “That woman was running across the parking lot. But she injured her ankle while she jumped out of the window. So I hear gunshots and I see her go down and I’m assuming that Tom is shooting out the window at her, I decided it still wasn’t safe.”

So he kept running. The woman who Ciszewski helped out of the window actually suffered a broken leg and, no, McIlvane was not shooting at her. She survived. Ciszewski also helped another woman who ran into his office during the shooting by hiding her behind a copy machine.

Ciszewski’s widow, Connie, told us about his death.

“And I saw one of Keith’s friends going into the hospital, and he was all full of blood, and I ran up to him and I said, ‘John where is Keith?’, and he just shook his head and I said, ‘Don’t tell me that!’ I just dropped to the ground, and that moment changed my life and my kids’ life forever,” said Connie.

He was the father to two girls and boy. Keith and Connie had been married for 10 years.

Ciszewski family (WDIV)

“He was a very silly, happy-go-lucky ... everybody loved Keith,” Connie said. “He was a very fair man and all of the employees really liked him.”

Charlie Withers, the union steward, knew Keith Ciszewski well.

“Keith was a decent human being. He was a manager which I went against in a grievance procedure and that, but he was trying to stop some of the conditions, some lower-level managers that were acting out towards employees, he was trying to stop it,” said Withers.

In his self-published book, “The Tainted Eagle: The Truth Behind the Tragedy,” Withers documents how a toxic management style pushed McIlvane to the breaking point, putting Keith Ciszewski in McIlvane’s crosshairs.

“So when he was killed, it was a big thing. I think Tom remembered him being at the arbitration but he didn’t hold the arbitration. That’s probably why he shot him,” said Withers.

French, meanwhile, survived a very long and painful hospital stay. He has nothing but admiration for Keith Ciszewski.

“Keith’s last act in life was saving somebody else’s life, and that was the type of man he was,” said French.

And that’s how Connie and her family remember him, living up to and dying by the biblical words of John: “There is no greater love than this: that a person would lay down his life for the sake of his friends.”

“Keith was a very Christian man, totally believed in God and, you know, we went to church as a family,” said Connie. “I always reminded my children that their dad was a hero. I’m more than proud. How can you not be proud? I’m sad I don’t have him but I’m happy that he went above and beyond to help the ladies that he helped get to safety and didn’t even think of his own safety first. That’s just how he was. He thought about other people before himself.”

Connie Ciszewski remarried and later divorced. She raised her children to know about their father’s heroism that day. They now all have children of their own and are told often about grandpa Keith and how special he was.

Keith Ciszewski family photos (WDIV)

WDIV Insider exclusive: Archive footage from Nov. 14, 1991

About the Author:

Rod Meloni is an Emmy Award-winning Business Editor on Local 4 News and a Certified Financial Planner™ Professional.