On November 8, 1991, Thomas McIlvane, a discharged USPS mail carrier, received a telephone call informing him that after over a year of proceedings, his termination had been upheld. On November 14, armed with a sawed-off .22-caliber rifle, Thomas entered the main post office in Royal Oak, Michigan, from an unsecured rear loading dock. He strode purposefully through the building, climbing the stairs to the management offices on the second floor. Seeking out supervisors who had been responsible for his termination, McIlvane fired more than 100 rounds, hitting multiple people before taking his own life. Several of his victims died.
Watching Errol Morris’ “Stalker“, you hear the story from the eyes of a man who had been one of Thomas Mcllvane’s managers. Bill Kinsley tells us that he has been used as a scapegoat for why such a tragedy took place. He has been blamed for being “autocratic” and “paramilitary”, he says. He’s even been depicted as a literal Nazi by those whom he used to supervise. Bill Kinsley claims that he did the best he could, and it wasn’t enough. He blames the system for dropping the ball. He had attempted to get Thomas help through the court he says, after the man allegedly began threatening his life. However, the court failed, the police failed, and Thomas McIlvane eventually did let loose in a bloody and fatal rampage.
So who is to blame? Should we blame Bill Kinsley, the allegedly “autocratic“ or “Nazi” boss? Did his managing style push Thomas McIlvane to commit such an atrocious crime? Could he have done something within the workplace to prevent that deranged man from doing exactly what he did? No, I very much doubt that Bill Kinsley himself deserves any significant blame for what happened that day in 1991. Perhaps Bill wasn’t the greatest boss around, let’s say he was autocratic, paramilitary, maybe even an intolerant individual, but then why was McIlvane the one that employees were really afraid of?
McIlvane displayed a history of violence long before the post office tragedy. He had been dishonorably discharged from the Marines for running over a commanding officer’s car with a tank. I want to know if anyone sought help for him then. Perhaps that instance in and of itself was not enough to know what horror he could commit, but the warning signs did not stop there. At the post office he allegedly assaulted a customer on at least one occasion. Coworkers claimed to be afraid of him, he also allegedly threatened postal inspectors, and he was eventually fired for threatening a supervisor. All of those things combined paint the picture of an individual who at best, needs intensive anger management, and at worst, could be extremely dangerous.
Perhaps if the tragic incident involving the Royal Oak post office had been an isolated incident it would be easy, maybe even logical, to blame Bill Kinsley and his alleged tyrannical method of management. That terrible incident, however, was far from the only one of it’s kind. There have been thousands of real-life incidents in which supervisors and co-workers have been shot by disgruntled employees, domestic quarrels have spilled over into the workplace, or other incidents of gun violence have taken place on business premises. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, homicide in the workplace is the fourth leading cause of death in the workplace. As recently as November 14th, 2008, a 47 year old man who had recently been laid off, opened fire inside the office where he used to work, killing three people, including the CEO. Just one month prior to that, in San Antonio, Texas, a librarian shot and killed a fellow librarian at the community college where they both worked. Still another shooting took place during June in Henderson, Kentucky. A 25 year old man shot six co-workers, killing five, before shooting and killing himself at Atlantis Plastics Company. These are just a few examples which show that workplace shootings happen far more often than you might think. Should we place sole blame on the management in each of these scenarios? Or should we consider other factors that could have contributed to these dreadful events?
Thomas McIlvane was obviously a very sick and violent man. Perhaps Bill Kinsley’s management style was upsetting, but only Thomas McIlvane reacted to such an extreme. If Bill Kinsley was responsible for what happened, why did McIlvane run over a commanding officer’s car with an army tank years before ever working for Royal Oak? Why was he reported for harassing both customers and post office personnel, if Bill Kinsley was his real problem?
When it comes to workplace shootings, it seems that we have the case of an already mentally disturbed, probably violent individual, who has just been pushed past the boiling point. (Even Mcllvane’s coworkers described him as “like a time bomb”.) When someone like that gets pushed over the edge, however, I don’t think that we can simply sit back and blame their bosses or fellow employees for someone’s murderous actions. The police are often notified of suspicious behavior, and need to act to make sure that a potential murderer is brought into custody. I also think it’s imperative that those individuals receive the psychological help and counseling that they need. I can’t say for sure, but I do think that the Royal Oak shooting could very possibly have been prevented. McIlvane went into a police station and TOLD them that he was going to kill Kinsley. Even if they had ignored his incident in the Marines, even if they ignored his harassing of postal customers, even if there was nothing they could do after Kinsley took him to court for threatening his life, I find it very hard to believe that they could do nothing but sit back after McIlvane essentially confessed to a murder in advance. The tragedy of the Royal Oak shooting is not so much the story of an evil boss pushing one worker to insanity, but of an already disturbed man who, perhaps after being pushed past the point of no return, was allowed to do what he did through the in-action of the authorities.