The families of nine people killed in the Washington, D.C., area
are not alone in wondering whether their loved ones died at the hands of
domestic madmen or foreign terrorists. Next week marks the first anniversary
of the deaths of two Washington postal workers murdered by the still-unknown
One of the victims was Joseph Curseen Jr. He had worked 15 years
on the nightshift as a mail sorter in the district's Brentwood facility.
Family and friends called him "Little Joe." His father, "Big Joe," also
worked for the postal service, delivering mail at the Reagan White House.
Curseen's good and simple life centered on work, family and
faith. He was a devout Catholic who grew up on the rough streets of
Southeast Washington. He attended grade school at Our Lady of Perpetual
Help, and then continued his Catholic education at Gonzaga High School and
Marquette University. On his answering machine, he greeted callers with a
cheerful message: "Have a blessed day!"
According to news accounts, Curseen was the kind of diligent
employee who racked up tons of unused sick days. The kind of selfless
neighbor who could always be counted on to pick up other people's children
after school or sports practice. The kind of community leader who rallied
citizens to support speed bumps and safer streets. The kind of dutiful
parishioner who led Bible study classes for fellow postal workers and always
arrived at Mass first to help out with the smallest tasks. He was, in short,
a gentleman, a professional, and a role model in words and deeds. "You could
always depend on Joe," said the Rev. Lowell Case, parish priest at the
church where Curseen grew up and returned regularly decades later to assist
with communion and attend services with his parents.
On Oct. 19, 2001, the steadfast postal worker who never called
in sick, vomited at work. But, his dad told USA Today, he didn't tell his
supervisor. In a world where so many workers search for the smallest excuse
to skip out of work, Little Joe Curseen stubbornly resolved to finish the
job as he had for 15 straight years. He finished his shift, thinking he had
a simple stomach flu, and went to Mass the next day as usual.
At Mass, he fainted, and a fellow parishioner called a rescue
team to provide medical treatment. But Curseen dismissed them after a few
minutes, insisting he was fine. That night, he returned to work. The next
day, plagued with nausea and sweating, he and his wife visited an emergency
room. He received a chest X-ray and intravenous fluids, and was discharged.
By this time, news of the anthrax-laced letters had been buzzing
on Capitol Hill for a full week. But no one at the hospital bothered to
check Curseen for anthrax symptoms. In the early morning hours of Oct. 22,
Curseen collapsed in his bathroom at home. His wife rushed him to the
hospital, where he died of inhalational anthrax.
The Congressional Black Caucus recently honored Curseen and his
colleague, Thomas Morris Jr., who also died in the anthrax attacks;
President Bush signed a law last month memorializing the men by renaming the
facility where they worked in their honor. But the families still have no
final answers from their government about the anthrax killers who terrorized
the nation a year ago.
"We live in a dangerous world, and those cowards who did this
will have a lot to answer for one day," Curseen Sr. noted at the time of his
only son's death. "We can only pray no other mother or father or wife has
to go through this."
The Curseen and Morris families have met the tragedy of unsolved
terrorism not with panic or bitterness or self-pity or blame, but with
sobriety and faith. They are role models for citizens now gripped in fear
and too busy pointing fingers and walking in zigzags to get down on their
knees and count their blessings.