December 21, 1997
Just hours before he fatally shot one colleague, wounded two others and killed himself, postal employee Anthony Deculit exchanged a series of handwritten messages with a hearing-impaired co-worker. One of the messages to co-worker Gary Fitts concerned a request Deculit had made to be moved to a new work station. Fitts said he inquired why Deculit wanted a new station. Deculit cryptically replied: "You will know later." About 12:45 a.m. Friday, Fitts understood the meaning behind the message. Fitts saw Russell D. "Dan" Smith, 44, fall to the floor fatally wounded, and eventually Fitts drove a wounded postal worker, supervisor Joan Chitwood, to the hospital after the tragedy unfolded in Milwaukee's downtown post office. "That's when I knew what his intentions were, when he started shooting," Fitts said. "I did not think it was real, but I don't know what the sound of real gunfire is. "At the sight of blood," Fitts said, "I knew it was real." Fitts said he fled the building and got into his car. Before he could pull away, a man flagged him down. "He indicated I should take someone with me," Fitts said. "The person who got in my car happened to be my supervisor," he said, referring to Chitwood, who had been shot in the eye. "She carried her clipboard and walkie-talkie with her, even though she was shot," Fitts said. "In a situation like this, a person will drop everything and run for their life, but that is one thing I noted about Joan. She is a strong woman." Fitts said he gave Chitwood a shirt from his back seat to try to stop the bleeding. Thinking the situation was a "matter of life or death," Fitts said, he sped to Froedtert Memorial Lutheran Hospital, reaching up to 85 miles per hour and missing an exit because he was "driving so fast." When Fitts pulled up to the hospital, Chitwood walked on her own into the emergency room, leaving her walkie-talkie and clipboard in his bloodstained car. Chitwood remained in stable condition at Froedtert on Saturday night. A witness to the shootings, Paul Ciletti, said Saturday that Deculit may have snapped after one of the victims said something sarcastic about the gunman's friend. While fellow employees have blamed the incident on the stress of postal work and problems Deculit, 37, had with management, it appeared as if Deculit went out of his way to shoot Smith, a fellow sorter at the office. "There is definitely a management problem, but it was clear he was going for Dan," said Paul Ciletti, a maintenance mechanic who helped drag Smith out of the line of fire during the confrontation. Ciletti said he believed Smith may have said something sarcastic or teased Deculit about someone close to him, and Deculit took it personally. Funeral services for Smith, a 20-year postal veteran, are set for 7 p.m. Monday at St. James Church in Mukwonago. Fitts said he did not think any one incident prompted Deculit's rampage. "I don't think you can pinpoint one thing as the cause," he said. "It had to build up over time." Fitts said even though he ran from the post office, he did not think Deculit wanted to shoot him or any of the other deaf employees. "We have been nice to him, and he respected us deaf employees," Fitts said. "So, if there were any deaf employees within gun sight last night, he would just make a gesture telling them to leave the area." Fitts, wearing a U.S. Postal Service shirt with 1996 Olympics insignia, added, "Deaf people and black people are minorities, and we both have problems due to our race and handicap. Tony respected us for what we are and would never hurt us." Another co-worker, Michael Witkowski, 42, said Deculit was very upset that Smith would talk to a male co-worker who had been involved with a female co-worker who was a friend of Deculit. Deculit was angry with the man because he "didn't want to see her hurt," said Witkowski, who attempted to calm Deculit before the distraught worker killed himself. Witkowski said Deculit and Smith had not spoken to each other for months -- even though the pair worked 4 feet apart. Co-workers said they might never know precisely what set Deculit in motion. Ciletti emphasized that the usual teasing might have been the final straw for a man on edge in a stressful environment. "The job itself is a lot of repetition," Ciletti said. "The big question is, when did he start bringing a gun to work?" In an e-mail message to the Journal Sentinel, Deculit's widow, Elizabeth, said she wished only to have a clean obituary on her husband to place inside a time capsule for her son, and she said any further statements from her would go through her lawyer. The Journal Sentinel misspelled Deculit's name in Saturday's editions. Postal officials said Saturday that the office was working to catch up with a backlog of mail. They said there would be some delivery of packages and other priority mail on Sunday -- a normal practice the Sunday before Christmas. Aside from a postal police car parked in front of the building, it appeared to be business as usual at the downtown post office Saturday afternoon as people mailed letters in the lobby and purchased stamps from vending machines. A sign on the door of the American Postal Workers Union, 417 N. 3rd St., asked that reporters stay away. Meanwhile, several postal employees who witnessed the shootings took exception with the version provided by law enforcement and the Milwaukee County medical examiner's office. A medical examiner's report says Smith was shot again while Ciletti and Witkowski dragged him away from the gunman, but both Ciletti and Witkowski said that was not the case. Some had other problems with the handling of the incident. Ciletti said he was angry that police did not help restore control after the gunman was dead. "The officers were standing at the door talking to people they knew instead of helping get the ambulance people upstairs where the bodies were or regaining control among all the workers," Ciletti said. "They didn't do diddly." Covered with Smith's blood, Ciletti said it was he and other postal employees who led ambulance personnel to the victims. Ciletti said people had asked him why he didn't run away when the shooting started. "If that was me face-down, I would hope someone would pull me off the floor and try to save my life," Ciletti said. Photo Gary Fitts Copyright 1997, 1998 Journal Sentinel Inc.
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