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Robbery At Post Office Leaves Four Dead

March 22, 1995

MONTCLAIR, N.J. (AP) _ An after-hours hold-up at a post office Tuesday left four people shot to death and a fifth critically wounded. Police searched the quiet suburban town door-to-door for suspects.

The victims were found after a postal worker entered the Upper Montclair post office just before 5 p.m. and saw a body on the floor. He left and called police, who arrived to find the carnage, and the attacker or attackers gone.

The post office is in the Watchung Plaza shopping district, and rush hour commuters from New York City arrived at the nearby New Jersey Transit train station to find police and panic.

Essex County Prosecutor Clifford Minor said the victims were thought to be postal employees because the shooting occurred an hour after closing.

Broadcast reports, however, said two of the dead may have been customers, and a relative of the wounded man, David Grossman, said he didn’t work there and might have stopped by for stamps or to pick up mail from a postal box.

``He’s got nothing to do with the post office,″ Alison Cross, Grossman’s sister-in-law, said in an interview from her Los Angeles home.

One of the dead was identified by his sister-in-law as Scott Walensky, a postal worker. She would not give her name as she was escorted behind police lines.

Howard Finney told WCBS Radio that he got off a commuter train and saw police with weapons drawn near the post office.

He said he watched as police knocked down the post office door around 5:15 p.m. A few minutes later, he said, about 10 people left the post office or an adjacent doorway and were rushed down the street by authorities.

He said one wounded man was brought out on a stretcher about a half-hour later, carried to a nearby playground, then evacuated by helicopter.

Grossman was ``somewhat alert″ when he was brought in, said Rogers Ramsey, a spokesman for University Hospital in Newark. He was in critical condition with two gunshot wounds to the head.

``It’s such an awful time when you don’t even know if someone’s going to live or die,″ said Cross, a screenwriter and former reporter. ``You can’t get any information. It’s so awful.″

She said Grossman, 45, and his wife, Karin Abarbanel, have a 4-year-old son.

Bill Murphy, 25, an employee at Watchung Booksellers a few stores down from the post office, said he heard what may have been three shots.

``I thought it was a car backfiring. Then someone came in and told us what happened,″ he said.

A crowd quickly gathered on the street as word spread. Some townspeople, a few with their dogs on leashes, watched as police with metal detectors and dogs went door-to-door searching for leads.

Police set up a command post Tuesday night in the shopping center’s color lab.

The four-block square contains nearly 50 businesses, including several restaurants, a florist and a pharmacy.

Children and parents in a doctor’s office next to the post office were kept inside by police for safety in the aftermath of the shooting. When they were allowed to leave, some ran screaming from the office, giving rise to rumors that they had been hostages.

Girls practicing field hockey at a school near the post office told of seeing a man race silently past with a gun in his hand. The girls started screaming and were ushered to the sidelines by their coach, The New York Times reported.

The post office where shootings occurred is a satellite to the main post office, which this month put in bullet-proof glass to protect its workers.

U.S. Postmaster General Marvin Runyon said in a statement he was ``shocked and saddened by the shootings″ and that the events ``underscore how vulnerable we all are in a society today where guns and violence have become the norm.″

Montclair, about 15 miles west of New York City, is a mixed-income community of about 38,000 residents. Many people use the post office as a bank to cash checks and utility bills, so money is often on hand.

``This town is what I would describe as rural suburbia,″ said resident Brent Balasa. ``You can get to the city easily but it’s far enough away so you feel safe and isolated from crime. But I’m not so sure if the suburbs are safe anymore.″

In 1991, a fired postal worker killed a former supervisor and her boyfriend in New Jersey at their home in Wayne _ 15 miles north of Montclair _ then went to the Ridgewood post office where he killed two mail handlers as they arrived for work. Joseph M. Harris surrendered after a 4 1/2-hour standoff with police.

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