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Ex-postal employee kills five, commits suicide at Calif. mail plant

GOLETA, Calif. — A female ex-postal worker opened fire at a mail processing plant, killing five people and critically wounding another before committing suicide in what's believed to be the deadliest workplace shooting ever carried out by a woman.

The rampage, the first deadly shooting at a postal installation in nearly eight years, sent employees running Monday night from the sprawling complex and prompted authorities to warn nearby residents to stay indoors as they searched for a suspect.

Authorities responding to a report of shots fired at 9:15 p.m. found two people dead outside the plant, blocks from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Another body was just outside the door, and a fourth was just inside. Two other bodies were farther inside the building, including one believed to be the shooter.

Authorities initially reported that the shooter had killed six people.

The suspect, who was not identified, died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Jim Anderson said.

Another woman who was shot in the head was listed in critical condition Tuesday.

It was the deadliest shooting at any workplace since 2003, when 48-year-old Doug Williams gunned down 14 co-workers, killing six, at a Lockheed Martin aircraft parts plant in Meridian, Miss., before turning the gun on himself.

James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University and an expert on homicides, said he believed the death toll might be the highest ever for any workplace shooting carried out by a woman.

It also was the bloodiest at a Postal Service facility since 1986, when a letter carrier killed 14 people in Edmond, Okla., and then took his own life. Postal facilities were the scene of a series of high-profile shootings in the mid-1980s and early '90s.

The last postal shooting was in 1998, when a 27-year-old letter carrier fatally shot a post office clerk in Dallas after they argued in a break room. He was found not guilty of murder by reason of insanity.

The victims Monday night were believed to be employees of the 200,000-square-foot Santa Barbara Processing and Distribution Center, Sheriff's Sgt. Erik Raney said. Their names were not immediately released.

Postal employee Charles Kronick told KEYT-TV in Santa Barbara that he was inside the building when shots rang out.

"I heard something that sounded like a pop, and then I heard a couple seconds later, another pop, pop, pop," Kronick said.

Kronick said his boss came running over and told him to get out of the building. "We all hightailed it out real quick," he said.

Some 50 to 60 employees were seen running from the plant, and many fled to a fire station across the street, said Santa Barbara County Fire Capt. Keith Cullom.

Investigators did not know how many guns were used, how the shooter entered the complex or what the motive might have been, Raney said.

Postmaster General John E. Potter said families of the victims were being notified and counselors would be available to the families and employees at the plant.

"Our heartfelt prayers and condolences go out to the families of the victims and to our employees who have suffered through this tragic incident," Potter said in a statement issued in Washington.

About 300 people are employed at the plant, located in a picturesque area about a mile from the ocean with a backdrop of mountains. The plant is off a quiet road connecting the student community of Isla Vista to shopping areas and the 101 Freeway. Goleta (pronounced go-LEE-tuh) is about 90 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

Employees were told to report Tuesday to another processing center in nearby Oxnard.

"In the coming days we will work with postal officials and law enforcement officers to assist the families of the victims and employees who have been traumatized by this horrible event," William Burrus, president of the American Postal Workers Union, said in a statement.

Associated Press reporter Christina Almeida in Los Angeles contributed to this report.