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Richard D. HERR






A.K.A.: "The Pigeon Man"
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: For reasons unknown
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: April 10, 1997
Date of birth: 1956
Victim profile: John J. Jensen, 41 (his foreman)
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Wilmington, Delaware, USA
Status: Shot and killed by Wilmington police the same day

On 10 april 1997, Rich, an Amtrak machinist known as the "pigeon man" because he talked to birds, killed his foreman, John J. Jensen, 41, and seriously wounded two other Amtrak employees at the locomotive repair yard.

For reasons unknown Richard D. Herr fired at least 15 shots from a 9 mm handgun as he rampaged through the Wilmington, Delaware, 450-employee Amtrak repair shop before police shot him to death.

"This guy, he'd talk to the walls. He'd apparently talk to the sky. He wasn't stable," said union official James Riley. "He must have snapped."

Two police officers found Herr climbing to an elevated catwalk above them. One officer shot and killed him when Herr pointed a gun at them. Herr fell 25 feet to the shop floor. Compassionately, Amtrak announced that their train schedules would not be affected by the deaths.


Amtrak cleared of liability in 'pigeon man' case

March 7, 2000

PHILADELPHIA -- A federal jury yesterday cleared Amtrak of any liability in the 1997 murder of a company foreman slain by a mentally ill worker who had been taunted and dubbed "pigeon man" by his coworkers in Wilmington, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

The eight-member U.S. District Court jury deliberated for about three hours before determining that Amtrak managers could not have predicted the April 10, 1997, rampage by Richard Herr, who shot and killed his foreman, John J. Jensen, 41, and seriously wounded two other Amtrak employees at the locomotive repair yard.

Herr, who believed pigeons sent him messages, was shot and killed by Wilmington police.

"What's to say? The jury has spoken," said Mark T. Wade, an attorney for Bonnie Jensen and her daughter Virginia, who had sued the national passenger railroad. "We always knew that the hard part of this trial was believing that Richard Herr was violent because of the lack of any prior criminal behavior or criminal record."

The Jensens declined to comment after the verdict, but Wade said his clients would consider filing an appeal for a new trial.

"This jury's verdict speaks much louder than anything we could say, and it was clearly based upon the evidence of no prior criminal acts," Amtrak lawyer Mark Landman said of yesterday's verdict. "Obviously, we also regret what happened to Mr. Jensen and the other workers."

The eight jurors declined to comment. Their verdict was foreshadowed by the first trial of the Jensens' suit, a proceeding that ended in a mistrial in August. After four days of testimony, one of the plaintiffs' lawyers mentioned, while questioning a witness, that Amtrak had settled another lawsuit arising from the shootings.

The two Amtrak workers wounded by Herr - manager John Fedora, 41, of Secane, and electrician John Morrison Jr., 37, of Newark, Del. - settled their suit against Amtrak in August 1998 for about $1.5 million.

Despite the news of Amtrak's settlement with Morrison and Fedora, the jurors in the first trial told the lawyers in an unusual trial post-mortem that they were divided 7-1 in favor of Amtrak at the time of the mistrial.

At a time when incidents of workplace and public violence continue to fuel the debate over gun control, the Amtrak case has raised the issue of to what extent corporations can be held responsible for protecting employees from potentially violent coworkers.

The Jensens' lawyers contended that Amtrak was responsible because Herr, 40, of Rehoboth Beach, Del., had demonstrated increasingly bizarre and threatening behavior in the year before the incident. In fact, they said, his conduct had led the Wilmington yard's on-site occupational nurse, Loretta Burton, to recommend a psychological evaluation as a condition of Herr's continued employment.

Burton was overruled by Amtrak medical officials in Washington. That is why, witnesses testified, Burton repeatedly apologized to the victims on the day of the shooting, saying: "I knew that this was going to happen."

Herr had complained to Burton about hearing ultrasonic noises that he said penetrated his skin. He told a supervisor that pigeons communicated with him and gave him instructions. Amtrak managers investigated the shop where Herr worked, and eliminated workplace and physical causes for Herr's complaints.

Coworkers testified that Herr was a loner who became increasingly confrontational and who, before the shootings, was twice reprimanded by Jensen for insubordination. One worker testified that Herr threatened to kill coworkers if they did not stop teasing him, and another said Jensen himself told colleagues he believed Herr would "blow me away one day."

But Amtrak's lawyers hung their defense on the fact that Herr, "odd duck" that he was, had worked for the railroad for 20 years without committing a violent act or getting arrested.

In his closing arguments to the jury yesterday, Landman maintaned that employers cannot start ordering psychological profiles for every worker who happens to be a loner or acts odd. "Is that what we're going to start doing? Start profiling everyone?"


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