WASHINGTON – Saving a terrified 10-year-old boy from the clutches of a child molester is not exactly in a Letter Carrier’s normal job description, but it became so last May for Christy Perfetti and Steve Plunkett of the National Association of Letter Carriers, Branch 31, in Peoria, Illinois.
Not only that, but Plunkett and Perfetti tracked the molester after their supervisor got the boy away into the safety of the Peoria post office. The tracking led to the man’s arrest – and the molester is now serving a life term in Illinois prisons.
That valor led the Letter Carriers to recognize Perfetti, Plunkett, their Peoria colleagues and four other Letter Carriers nationwide at the union’s annual “Heroes of the Year” awards ceremony, held Sept. 10.
All the honorees are examples of “courage, compassion and dedication or all three,” said Letter Carriers President Fredric Rolando. “They do these things because they’re in the neighborhoods six or seven days a week – and they know when something’s wrong.
“Having watched the kids grow up and the parents age, they know what’s going on,” he added. “And each will downplay what he or she did, and go back to delivering the mail.”
While NALC has rewarded individual heroism and community service for years, the Peorians broke precedent, Rolando said: They got a first-ever Unit Citation award for heroism. That’s because their sympathetic supervisor, Stacie Pence-Bailey, and two other colleagues, Steve Hamas and Karen Leitner, also aided in the rescue, Plunkett explained.
As Perfetti pulled into the post office parking lot one day near Mother’s Day last May, she noted the man shepherding the frightened boy across the blacktop. When the man took the boy behind the post office shed, Perfetti ran inside and alerted Pence-Bailey, who accompanied her back out, as did Plunkett. The man had earlier grabbed the boy at knife-point.
The sobbing boy said “No, you’re not my father,” when Pence-Bailey questioned them. She got the boy away and took him inside to safety. The man ran, and the two carriers pursued him, with Plunkett taking photos. That let the police track and catch the offender.
“If you ever see a situation like this, don’t be afraid to step up to the plate” and act, Perfetti urged the crowd.
Plunkett, Perfetti and their colleagues were typical of the NALC heroes the union honors every year. Other honorees were:
* National Hero of the Year Jermaine Shirley of the Bronx was just setting out for work in Greenwich, Conn., last December when he smelled smoke from his own apartment building. He ran back in, alerted residents at all six apartments to the danger and called 911, but found neighbor Everdean Codner had his hands full with his 11-month-old twin boys. Shirley, a Branch 379 member, got Codner to go out to a third-floor fire escape, while he climbed on a shed two stories below – and then convinced Codner to drop the two boys, one by one, to him. After Shirley caught the two boys, Codner and his wife jumped from the escape to the shed. The apartment building was extensively damaged, but nobody was seriously hurt.
* Western Region Hero of the Year Steve Filson of Bend, Ore., and Branch 1937, saved his fellow unionist Jim Lascurin in 2012, after Lascurin collapsed in the Bend parking garage with a rare form of heart failure. Physicians later said that had Filson, a former Navy medic, not acted immediately by giving Lascurin CPR, Lascurin would have died: That type of heart failure has only a 5 percent survival rate.
* Central Region Hero of the Year Jim Rurik of Columbus, Ohio, Branch 78 saved a man from fire and smoke pouring from the man’s apartment on March 21, 2013. The fleeing man was on fire himself – he had tried to start a fire in his fireplace using lighter fluid – but Rurik told him to stop, drop and roll. Rurik then used his jacket to smother the remaining flames before entering the building to alert other residents.
* Eastern Region Hero of the Year Robert George and his son rescued a trucker whose rig spun out of control due to a mechanical failure and smashed into a house in Leicester, Mass. They pulled the stunned and dazed driver from the truck, but he wanted to stay with it. George, of Massachusetts Branch 12, saw flames starting in the truck, told the driver “No way,” and pulled him to safety, just before the truck exploded. The flames were so hot they melted the side of the then-uninhabited house. The truck was demolished.
* NALC named New York City Branch 26 member Orlando Gonzalez Humanitarian of the Year for organizing an annual fund-raising run for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, NALC’s top charitable cause. The run, named after longtime late NALC President, and Branch 26 member, Vincent Sombrotto, raised more than $20,000 this year.
And to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, NALC honored an early member, Victor Green, who died in 1960, for the unusual way he battled Jim Crow racism. Working in his off hours from his Harlem route and using his contacts with other Letter Carriers in the union’s early days nationwide, Green created The Negro Motorist Green Book in 1936. The union gave him its Legacy Award.
In the days of segregation, North and South, the book told African-Americans which black-owned and white-owned hotels, restaurants, inns and even private homes where they could eat and sleep on their travels nationwide. With tens of thousands of copies sold every year, the guide lasted until after the 1964 law outlawed segregation in public accommodations. In 1949, Green foresaw that end – and welcomed it as a sign of equality.
Several congressional Democrats, plus AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler, attended the ceremony, with the lawmakers present to honor heroes from their districts. Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., honoring George, said – after recalling friendly “John the mailman” when he was a boy, added: “You don’t have to be a kid to appreciate the value of Letter
Carriers in every city and state.” Rep. Jose Serrano, D-N.Y., honoring Gonzalez, added “for senior citizens and shut-ins, the Letter Carrier is often their only daily human contact.” And Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., honoring Shirley, said when Letter Carriers “see something suspicious, they jump in.”
All three also took the occasion to praise the union and the postal reform plan it – and they – back to expand the Postal Service into other lines of work while preserving 6-day service and eliminating a $5.5 billion annual prepayment of future retirees’ health care costs. The payment has driven USPS into the red and led the Postmaster General to demand elimination of Saturday service, firing 100,000 workers, letting another 100,000 go by attrition and closure of dozens of postal sorting centers, including 82 planned for next year.
Photo: Letter carriers Steve Plunkett and Christy Perfetti thwarted a potential kidnapping. Michael Shea/NALC