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Workers Say Security Lax At County Office Where Four Died

October 16, 1992

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. (AP) _ Scared workers complained of lax security Friday, a day after a man gunned down four members of a county agency that had tried for 25 years to collect child support payments from him.

More than 100 Schuyler County employees gathered for a counseling and support session in the courthouse.

Mary Ellen Upham, the only surviving employee of the county child support collection unit because she had taken her son to a doctor’s appointment Thursday, said she and other social service workers had often talked about the need for better security.

″It’s something that has needed to be done for a long time,″ she said. ″We all had this fear that something like this would happen. As things get tougher, people are desperate. They don’t understand it’s the bureaucracy. They think it’s us.″

All her co-workers were shot to death Thursday by a man angry over a 22- year battle over support for a child he denied was his.

State police said John T. Miller, 50, of North Ridgeville, Ohio, who killed himself after shooting the workers, owed the county $6,780 for support of the now-grown child. Last week, $51 was taken out of his paycheck, the first time his wages were withheld.

Upham said Miller came to the child support office the day before the shootings.

″He wasn’t belligerent, he wasn’t rude, he wasn’t drinking,″ she said.

Miller talked with one of the victims, Florence Pike, and offered to get a blood test to prove he hadn’t fathered the child, state police spokesman Gene Chisholm said.

When Pike told Miller he should get an attorney, Miller told her, ″I might as well kill myself,″ Chisholm said. But Miller didn’t threaten the workers that day, Chisholm said.

Upham said the employees are bothered that there is no way to lock their office doors from inside, and no escape routes from their offices. Although visitors are supposed to sign in at the front entrance, nothing stops people from using a back staircase where Miller entered.

″We’re threatened all the time, and sometimes we’re not taken very seriously,″ said Beverly Clickner, whose office is next to the child support unit.

After the meeting, Sheriff Michael Maloney agreed to post two deputies in the social services building and one in the probation office for the next two weeks, until the county legislature comes up with a long-term plan for improving security.

″You’re dealing with very volatile people. The office workers have some genuine fears,″ Maloney said.

But Maloney said he didn’t know if extra security would have helped Miller’s victims. ″The man was intent on killing those four workers, and he would have done it, even if he had to do it outside,″ he said.

Miller’s co-workers, friends and neighbors in North Ridgeville say he was quiet and polite but quick to lose his temper.

Buddy Allen, owner of the trucking company where Miller worked, said Miller had a ″childlike temper.″ He would get upset, slam phones and yell, ″and then he’d cool off real quick.″

Jean Popil, a friend who said she camped with Miller last week, said Miller told her Monday that he would never see her again.

″I’m shocked. He was like part of my family,″ she said.

Campground owner Ed Moravek said Miller had been camping at his place for years.

″He was a very fine person. ... I don’t feel he was capable of doing what he did,″ Moravek said. ″He was friendly and mild-mannered. It just doesn’t add up.″

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