Gunmen on loose in Tennessee post office attack

Paula Robinson
Paula Robinson
Judy Spray
Judy Spray

HENNING, Tenn. (AP) - Investigators searched Tuesday for the men who gunned down two workers at a rural post office that doubles as a community center in this small town, where the local gas station that sells fried chicken also is its most popular eatery.

Yellow crime-scene tape roped off the one-story brick post office, and two large police command posts were set up outside one day after the violence that shocked Henning, about 45 miles northeast of Memphis. Outside, the flag had been lowered to half-staff Tuesday. No arrests have been made, and authorities haven't determined a motive.

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Mike Dunavant, the Lauderdale County District Attorney, gave no new information Tuesday morning. On Monday, he acknowledged the suspect or suspects were armed and dangerous and said the killings were done with "disturbing violence."

Killed were Judy Spray, 58, a rural carrier associate, and Paula Robinson, 33, a retail clerk. Their bodies were removed from the post office and sent to a medical examiner late Monday for autopsies.

They were well-known to residents who often come to pick up their mail at the post office, which sits between a self-service car wash and a coin-operated laundry called "Mom's" in this western Tennessee town of about 1,200 people.

Ella Holloway, who lives within walking distance, was accustomed to seeing Robinson's smile when she went to the post office to buy stamps. Another local woman said she knew Spray, describing her as being "nice as can be" when she delivered the mail.

"When we were outside, she would wave and smile at us," Wendy Willis said.

Spray and Robinson were the only ones in the post office during the shooting, said Yulanda Burns, a spokeswoman for the U.S. postal inspection service.

Meanwhile, authorities had released few details about the shooting and the suspects they are searching for. One woman said  Tuesday that her car was searched by investigators looking for a similar vehicle, though no description has been officially released.
Student Cortesha Foster, 25, said a friend called her to say that police searched her burgundy two-door car as part of their investigation. The friend recommended that Foster, who drives a Chevrolet Monte Carlo of the same color, go to the crime scene to have her car searched.

"They told me to get out. Searched my vehicle. Searched my trunk, and everything in there," she said. She was allowed to leave afterward.

Postal inspectors in blue vests also briefly searched the car wash next door as rain drizzled from an overcast sky.

Keith Morris, assistant inspector in charge of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service in Memphis, said officials have several possible motives. Authorities were urging the members of the public who may have information to contact investigators, and postal officials offered a $25,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.

Residents have their own theories - from robbery to a drug package delivery gone bad, said farmer George Arender, who was filling up his red pickup truck Tuesday at the town gas station.

"They're devastated," Arender said. "They just can't figure out a motive for this."

Mary Hammock, who is a cook at the gas station within sight of the post office, said she had been in the post office about 8:25 a.m. Monday and noticed it was not as loud or busy as normal.

"I knew something didn't feel right because it was real quiet," she said. She returned to the gas station and heard police sirens about 15 minutes later.

"I might have been real close probably to losing my life," she said.

A memorial fund for Paula Robinson has been established here:

Paula Robinson Memorial Fund
Trust Company Bank
1270 Old Hwy. 51 S.
Brighton, TN 38011

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)