🔒Nov. 14, 1991: Gunman opens fire at Royal Oak Post Office, killing 4 employees

Disgruntled ex-post office employee killed former coworkers in shooting rampage

WDIV Local 4's Roger Weber reported on Nov. 14, 1991 after Thomas McIlvane opened fire inside of the Royal Oak Post Office.

ROYAK OAK, Mich. – It’s been 30 years since Thomas McIlvane entered the Royal Oak Post Office with a sawed-off .22 caliber Ruger hunting rifle and opened fire, fatally shooting four people and ultimately himself.

McIlvane, 31, was a former employee at the post office who was fired a year before for what postal officials called “insubordination.” He had been fighting his termination ever since, going to arbitration where he ultimately did not win back his job.

On the morning of Thursday, Nov. 14, 1991, he entered the building on West 2nd Street through the loading dock and covered the rifle with a rain coat. According to a federal report on the shooting, McIlvane fired 100 rounds from the weapon. He killed four postal employees and wounded four others. He fatally shot himself in the head.

Coworkers said McIlvane made repeated threats against his superiors, saying if he didn’t get his job back he was going to get “even.”

An illustration of Thomas McIlvane opening fire Nov. 14, 1991 inside a Post Office in Royal Oak, Mich. (WDIV)
An illustration of Thomas McIlvane opening fire Nov. 14, 1991 inside a Post Office in Royal Oak, Mich. (WDIV)

The attack in Royal Oak was part of a series of deadly shootings in which United States Postal Service (USPS) workers shot and killed managers and coworkers. The term “going postal” comes from this trend of mass murders. McIlvane’s coworkers said he actually made references to a 1986 shooting in Edmond, Oklahoma that killed 14 employees, threatening he would do worse in Royal Oak.

Witnesses in Royal Oak said they first thought the gunshots were fireworks.

“All of a sudden these people rushed through the door and the franticness, I knew then that there was something wrong, and I saw him and then he had the gun in his hand, well I knew we were in trouble,” Vivian Dove told WDIV’s Anne Thompson.

Watch the interview here:

WDIV Local 4's Anne Thompson spoke with a Royal Oak Post Office employee who witnessed the shooting rampage that killed several of her coworkers on Nov. 14, 1991.

Dove, 44, was working at her desk in the personnel office when the shooting happened.

“The only thing I could think of was laying on the floor and playing dead, and hoped that it worked,” said Dove.

It did work -- she only suffered a back injury.

McIlvane was not there to shoot Dove. No, as WDIV’s Roger Weber reported, McIlvane entered the Royal Oak Post Office with specific targets in mind. He shot three people in an office area near the loading dock and shot another victim in a first-floor office. Others were shot in a second-floor office.

Here’s Roger Weber’s report from Nov. 14, 1991:

WDIV Local 4's Roger Weber reported from Royal Oak on Nov. 14, 1991 after a former postal employee entered the building and killed several of his former coworkers.

Here are interviews with people who knew McIlvane:

Here are interviews WDIV Local 4 did with people who knew Thomas McIlvane after he went on a shooting rampage Nov. 14, 1991 at the Royal Oak Post Office.

Here’s a couple more interviews from people who witnessed the shooting:

Here are eyewitness accounts from the shooting rampage at the Royal Oak Post Office on Nov. 14, 1991.

Government report

The Committee on Post Office and Civil Service House of Representatives released a report on June 15, 1992, seven months after the shooting rampage, detailing its findings on the case.

“On the morning of November 14, 1991, Thomas Paul McIlvane, a former letter carrier, entered the Management Sectional Center in Royal Oak, Michigan, fired 100 rounds from a .22 caliber weapon and shot himself,” reads the executive summary of the report. “By the end of the following day, four postal employees and McIlvane were dead, and four postal employees were wounded. Chairman William L. Clay of the Committee on Post Office and Civil Service and Ranking Minority Member Benjamin A. Gilman initiated a Committee investigation into the tragedy. The objective of the Committee investigation was to determine (as best as it could) what happened on November 14, 1991, and the days and months leading up to that tragic day and to identify any changes in practice that any of the participants could implement to reduce the likelihood of a reoccurrence. This tragedy, like every other, has lessons to be learned and not to be ignored. It is the Committee’s hope that the Postal Service, its employees, and employees’ representatives will profit from any lessons learned. In its investigation Committee staff conducted 71 personal interviews and numerous telephone interviews of individuals with knowledge of the tragedy and visited the Royal Oak facility on three separate occasions. The Committee finds that there are areas where the United States Postal Service, the Postal Inspection Service and employee organizations can improve their performance and, hopefully, lessen the probability of a repeat of this tragedy.”

The committee’s report notes:

“The Office of Senator Carl Levin conducted a two-month investigation into Royal Oak, the results of which were summarized in a September 10, 1991, staff memorandum. The memorandum documented ‘patterns of harassment, intimidation, cruelty and allegations of favoritism in promotions and demotions ... [and] testimony relating to wide-ranging delivery and service problems.’ Senator Levin subsequently furnished this documentation to the Committee.”

Thomas Paul McIlvane (WDIV)

The committee released a list of specific findings, including the following:

  • Pre-employment screening practices by the Postal Service did not include interviewing past employers even though McIlvane’s record indicated problems in the military -- a general discharge under honorable conditions rather than an Honorable Discharge.
  • McIlvane issued many threats in the presence of employees, union representatives and supervisors.
  • There was no established procedure at Royal Oak or within the Detroit Division for employees to report threats against themselves or others.
  • Employees claim to have reported threats made by McIlvane to the Inspection Service, but the Inspection Service has no record of most of those contacts.
  • Inspection Service procedures do not require Inspectors to log in and create a file on all reported threats. These procedures differ greatly from other federal law enforcement agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and U.S. Secret Service. Those agencies require agents to document all reported threats and require two agents to interview every individual who made a threat.
  • Inspection Service performance evaluations are designed in a manner which discourages Inspectors from investigating threats.
  • Local union officials did not report McIlvane’s threats to Royal Oak management or the Inspection Service while the union was representing McIlvane in a grievance arbitration nor did those officials reprimand or offer any professional counseling to McIlvane.
  • Neither the local union nor the national union have established procedures for reporting threats made by a member or for counseling that member when the union is representing that member in a grievance procedure.
  • Labor/management relations at Royal Oak were very poor. Discipline, including discipline of Mr. McIlvane, was not used properly. Since employees felt that discipline was used to harass and coerce them, the discipline process at Royal Oak had become counterproductive.
  • Managers who had a history of labor/management problems in Indianapolis were transferred or promoted to Royal Oak without independent review by Postal Service headquarters. Problems from one facility were simply transferred to another, Royal Oak.
  • There was no security control officer at Royal Oak, and Royal Oak management was unaware of the requirement for such an officer.
  • McIlvane’s arbitration proceeding lasted longer than one year which was a significantly greater period of time than the ten previous removal arbitrations in the Detroit area had required. One year is an unconscionable time period to complete a grievance arbitration proceeding on a removal. A one year period indicates dilatory tactics.

You may find the full report here.



About the Author:

Dave Bartkowiak Jr. is the digital managing editor for ClickOnDetroit.