For Post Office Mistress in Hartford, Violence Hits Twice
Rosi O'Connell, postmaster at the West Hartford Post Office in January 2011. Valley News - James M. Patterson Purchase photo reprints »
Hartford — There may be customers who visit the Hartford Post Office and don’t receive a warm welcome from Postmistress Rosi O’Connell, but judging from a recent afternoon, it seems unlikely.
“I met your grandson the other day, he’s a very good looking guy,” O’Connell told a woman who dropped in.
“I saw your son yesterday — oh, he is a nice kid. Like father, like son,” she said to a male visitor. “How’s the family?”
“Hi, how are you? You have three packages, that’s exciting.”
But the cheery O’Connell, a Peruvian immigrant who arrived in the United States in 1977 with $80 in her pocket, has spent her recent months haunted and fearful, after suffering two brutal assaults, one at work and the other at her home.
A former co-worker, Brian Bowles, 40, of North Pomfret, was charged with beating O’Connell, 58, over the head with a small, handheld mail scanner in the post office in March, leaving her with a concussion and a damaged meniscus.
The second attack, seven months later, she said, was scarier.
O’Connell said that on the night of Oct. 11, returning to her North Pomfret home from a party, a man who was waiting on her front porch in the dark punched her on the head numerous times, rendering her unconscious for several hours.
“I was thinking I would be dead,” said O’Connell. “It’s sad, scary.”
No one has been arrested for the October incident, though O’Connell said she was able to describe some physical traits of her assailant and believes she knows who it was.
Windsor County State’s Attorney Robert Sand confirmed the report of the second attack, but declined to discuss it in detail, citing the open investigation.
Bowles, who pleaded not guilty to a charge of simple assault in Windsor Superior Court earlier this year in connection with the March incident, could not be reached for comment. He faces up to one year in prison if convicted.
After initially representing himself, Bowles was recently assigned a public defender, Jordana Levine, who did not respond to a request for comment yesterday.
In court filings, Bowles has argued that the charge should be dismissed for a lack of evidence, and insisted that the federal government, not the state, should have jurisdiction in the case.
Judge Robert Gerety rejected those arguments. (Sand said the state has jurisdiction because the federal government does not own the Hartford Post Office building — it leases it from an outside party.)
Court records show that investigators had difficulty reaching Bowles, by phone or in person, to serve him with papers.
An affidavit filed by Hartford police officer Mark McComas gives the following account.
On the morning of April 26, O’Connell was sorting mail inside the Maple Street office when Bowles, a contracted delivery driver, arrived. She asked him to use his hand scanner. He refused, and suddenly allegedly hit her on the head with the scanner, which weighs about five pounds.
She backed up as he hit her multiple times, and fell to the ground.
“I said, ‘Oh, my god, he will kill me,’ because I know he (doesn’t) like me,” O’Connell said in an interview.
After striking her a few times, the attacker fled. A customer soon arrived, heard O’Connell moaning, leapt over the counter to help, and called police.
She was taken to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, and was eventually diagnosed with a concussion, she said, along with a knee injury that required surgery.
O’Connell said she does not know what provoked the attack, but said they had long had a strained relationship, and believes he was reluctant to take instruction from her.
“He was very difficult,” O’Connell said, in an interview this week at the post office. “I don’t know what it was, but he started hating my guts.”
O’Connell had healed and began to put the incident past her when she arrived home on 9:15 p.m. on Oct. 11, hoping to watch the Vice Presidential debate before falling asleep. She climbed three steps to her porch. The porch light was shining in her eyes, but she made out a figure, dressed in black, standing to the side. O’Connell’s husband wasn’t home at the time.
He lunged, she fell. She recalls being hit several times in the face. The next thing she remembers, the neighbor’s dog Daisy was licking her on the face. It was 7 a.m. the next day, and O’Connell lay where she fell on the porch.
“I forgot what happened, but everything hurt,” she said.
She still has visible bruises on her face. Sand, the prosecutor, said O’Connell has been interviewed by Vermont State Police, who are handling the investigation.
“It’s a bad situation,” she said. “I don’t know what to say.”
O’Connell now carries mace, and sleeps at home only two nights a week. When her husband, who works overnight shifts at the mail sorting facility in White River Junction, is working, she stays elsewhere.
She and her husband are planning on installing better lights.
They are safety precautions, O’Connell said, she never thought she would have to take in Vermont. Seeking a better life, she arrived alone in California from Peru, and soon met her future husband. He applied for postal jobs in several states, and ended up taking a position in White River Junction.
They have raised three children — one is currently working for the State Department in China, one is in the Peace Corps in Nicaragua, and the other is finishing college, she said.
“We work and work and work and don’t do anything else,” O’Connell said. “We only work and send out kids to school. I don’t hate anyone.”
Mark Davis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3304.