The shooter was facing discipline for unspecified workplace violations at the post office, Dublin Police Lt. Steve Farmer said.
By Randy Ludlow | The Columbus Dispatch
DUBLIN, Ohio — The last time Steve Dempsey saw his husband was when they went to bed early Friday night in Lewis Center.
The couple, together 26 years, had a ritual of saying goodnight.
Dempsey, 58, stroked his love’s face and looked into his dark eyes.
“I told him I loved him,” Dempsey said. They always did that.
He didn’t realize it was goodbye.
In a matter of hours, Lance Herrera-Dempsey, 52, would be dead at what police say was the hands of a co-worker.
Herrera-Dempsey was shot after going in for his 3 a.m. shift at the Dublin Post Office to join a group of postal workers sorting through the flood of the last pre-Christmas mail.
Deshaune K. Stewart, who authorities say was facing discipline at his job, killed Herrera-Dempsey, his immediate supervisor, according to police. They say that Stewart then went on to kill the postmaster, Ginger Ballard, outside of her Northwest Side home nearly three hours later.
Stewart was facing discipline for unspecified workplace violations at the post office, Dublin Police Lt. Steve Farmer said. Stewart, charged with two counts of murder, appears to have no prior criminal record in Franklin County, court records show.
The chaos started around 4:25 a.m. Saturday. Panicked workers at the Dublin Post Office, 6400 Emerald Parkway, scattered as Stewart, 24, walked into the sorting bay naked and approached Herrera-Dempsey three hours before Stewart, a postal carrier, was scheduled to work.
Witnesses told police that Herrera-Dempsey asked, “What the hell?” when he saw Stewart naked, before Stewart shot him in the shoulder, according to records. Stewart then fired another shot after Herrera-Dempsey crumpled to the ground. He targeted his supervisor and threatened no one else, witnesses said.
“I don’t know what happened with this particular person, but [Herrera-Dempsey] had the respect of a lot of people,” his husband Dempsey said. “I’ve been getting phone calls all day from people who are just broken.”
It’s unclear what Stewart then did for a few hours, but at 7:18 a.m., he was 4 miles from the post office, at the Bowland Place home of the 53-year-old Ballard. She is listed as the postmaster of the Dublin postal facility and also was a supervisor for Stewart, police say.
He apparently waited inside his car outside her home, said police Sgt. David Sicilian of the first-shift Columbus police homicide squad.
Stewart was still naked and armed with a semiautomatic gun when he was seen chasing the woman around her Strathmoor apartment complex parking lot, in the Tuttle Crossing area of the Northwest Side.
Police say that Stewart threw Ballard to the pavement, crushing her skull and killing her instantly. Her body was found between two parked vehicles.
Stewart surrendered when confronted by officers a short time later.
A good friend of Ballard’s said it was OK to use comments that she wrote about Ballard on her FB page.
Ballard, she said, was supposed to attend a winter-solstice lodge event on Saturday.
“I just don’t understand; I loved her so much,” wrote Terri Rivera, who manages Peebles-based Serpent Mound Seed and Water Peace Summit Water in Adams County. “I pray for all of you who she touched. Big prayers for her mom and dad, their only child and the light of their lives; her partner, Karen, and all the postal employees and family she leaves behind.”
Saturday evening, Dempsey spoke about his husband, saying the couple had lived in Ohio for the past 14 years. Herrera-Dempsey, he said, worked for the post office for more than a decade, starting as a carrier and then working his way up to supervisor.
“He was about taking care of his people,” Dempsey said. “He was a carrier himself. He knew what the challenges were.”
Though Herrera-Dempsey’s death occurred in Dublin, Ballard’s home was in Columbus, so with a week remaining in 2017, Columbus recorded its 138th homicide of the year with that slaying. That’s one short of matching the record of 139 in 1991.
Sgt. Sicilian termed the slayings “workplace violence,” saying Stewart apparently retaliated against those whom he accused of being behind his pending dismissal from the U.S. Postal Service.
Stewart was charged by Dublin police with premeditated aggravated murder in the death of Herrera-Dempsey. Columbus police charged him with murder in the death of Ballard. Dublin police listed Stewart with a Northeast Side address; Columbus police said he lived in the Canal Winchester area.
In a statement, Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther said: “I am deeply saddened and angered at the most recent homicide in our city. At a time when many gather together to celebrate new beginnings, yet another family must struggle with a heartbreaking loss. We must guard against treating this loss of human life as a mere statistic. This homicide is just as tragic as the first one of 2017.”
Ginther said the city is taking steps to lessen violence, but noted half of the city’s homicides this year remain unsolved. “We must share in the pain and grief, but more importantly, the responsibility to hold those responsible accountable. We cannot remain silent as those intent on destroying life continue to terrorize our neighborhoods,” he said.
The post office was not open to the public when the shooting occurred and remained closed Saturday.
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service offered a brief statement: “Because this tragic matter is the subject of an ongoing investigation by the Postal Inspection Service and local law enforcement, we are not yet in a position to provide details concerning the incidents,” said Kathryn Woliung, spokeswoman for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. The U.S. attorney’s office will later provide additional information, she said.
Herrera-Dempsey’s relatives said they were still processing the news. A man they described as kind, family-oriented and hardworking was suddenly gone. He was a member of United Methodist Church For All People on Parsons Avenue.
Herrera-Dempsey, a native of Bishop, California, was one of eight children. He still looked in on his sisters and adored his nieces and nephews. He mailed his sister, Lisa Gonzales, and niece, Asia Gonzales, a box of Cheryl’s Cookies to California for Christmas. The package had arrived there on Friday evening, his niece said by phone.
“He should have never died the way he died,” sister Lisa Gonzales said.
Dempsey, who spent Saturday evening surrounded by family members, shared memories of his husband. The couple met when they were enlisted in the Army and stationed in Worms, Germany.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” Dempsey said. “There’s not going to be a Christmas, right?”