HENNING, Tenn. — Investigators searched Tuesday for the men who gunned down two workers at a rural post office that doubles as a community center in this town so small that residents cannot get their mail delivered at home.
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 Monday morning violence that shocked Henning, about 45 miles northeast of Memphis. No arrests have been made and authorities haven’t determined a motive.
Killed were Judy Spray, 58, a rural carrier associate, and Paula Robinson, 33, a retail clerk.
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 “nice as can be.”
“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.
Keith Morris, assistant inspector in charge of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service in Memphis, said officials have several possible motives.
“We have a lot of theories that are in play at this point,” he said.
Mary Hammock, who works at a nearby market, said she had been in the post office about 8:25 a.m. 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 market and heard police sirens about 15 minutes later.
“I might have been real close probably to losing my life,” she said.
Around midday, plainclothes investigators were scanning the area along railroad tracks behind the post office. Lines of yellow police tape kept people away from the building as a crowd gathered nearby, some sitting in chairs, waiting for more information about what happened.
Crime scene investigation trucks were parked outside, including one from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
Standing on a street corner near the post office, city resident Emmitt Hennings, a 71-year-old retiree, said it was hard to comprehend what happened.
“I just couldn’t believe it, not in this town,” Hennings said. “It’s too quiet.”
Postal officials offered a $25,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the case.
The post office is less than a half-mile away from the museum dedicated to the “Roots” author Alex Haley, who died in 1992. The 1976 book won a Pulitzer Prize and was the basis for a top-rated TV series. The story chronicled his family history from Africa to slavery and freedom in the U.S., and it inspired many people to research their own families’ roots.
Associated Press writers Lucas L. Johnson II and Kristin M. Hall in Nashville contributed to this report.