By Mary Claire Molloy – Special to the Bloomingtonian
The mail carrier was afraid for her life and wanted people to know it. On Facebook she described an escalating conflict with a family on her route who was allegedly threatening her because they had not received their government stimulus check.
On Monday at 12:03 p.m., Angela Summers posted that she was concerned about her safety and wondered, “Is this a hill you’re willing to die on.”
Four hours later, the 45-year-old carrier was gunned down on her route on the east side of Indianapolis, beside the house where the aggrieved family lived. According to authorities, a member of the family shot Summers in the chest after she bypassed their house and failed to deliver their mail.
On Thursday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office charged 21-year-old Tony Cushingberry-Mays with second-degree murder and assaulting a federal employee with a firearm. The U.S. Post Office, meanwhile, is leaving flyers in the mailboxes of Indianapolis residents offering a $50,000 reward for information leading to a conviction.
The mail carrier’s death appears to be the culmination of a dispute that had been building for weeks between the mail carrier and the family – a dispute sparked by the family’s Chihuahua.
This account of the dispute is based on court documents and interviews, as well as private Facebook posts and video provided by a witness and by a close friend of Summers’. Taken together, the posts and the video provide new and haunting details about the killing, which became national news in a week where postal employees have become politicized frontline workers in a pandemic and Americans are living on edge.
Summers had one teenage daughter who lives with her former partner in Bloomington.
She was an animal lover who filled her Instagram feed with dog photos. She rescued two cats, Milo and Friend, and co-founded Missy’s Morsels, a local business that sells homemade dog treats. Friend Melissa Cummings described Summers as “a force of nature” and someone who loved helping others.
“She was always advocating for being a little nicer to your mail carriers,” Cummings said. According to Cummings, Summers had worked as a mail carrier for three years and lived near her mail route. She had a rapport with her customers, who sometimes left her water bottles and hand warmers.
Posting on Facebook in an album titled “Tales from the Route,” Summers chronicled repeated problems with an aggressive Chihuahua while delivering mail to a house on North Denny Street. The carrier put a “dog warning card” in the family’s mailbox three times, she said, and repeatedly asked them to put the dog away while she delivered the mail.
“That’s more generous than I usually am to most problem owners,” she wrote. “This dog is a nasty devil that I’ve actually had to spray — twice!”
When the incidents with the dog didn’t stop, the post office began holding the family’s mail for pickup, including their government stimulus check.
In one post, Summers described an altercation that took place on April 24: “I’m walking past the house and loads of people are on the porch. A half-dozen kids were outside and the Chihuahua was outside barking.”
The carrier moved to the sidewalk to pass the house. “A woman stands up and hollers for my attention,” Summers wrote. “She tells me that she is the ‘lady of this house’ and that if I EVER mace her dog again she’ll personally mace me. (Yup, that was definitely a threat to a federal employee) Then she proceeds to yell ‘Bitch this and kick your ass bitch that’ at me.”
As Summers delivered mail to the next house, she said, the woman kept yelling, demanding that she deliver the family’s mail and threatening to set a pit bull loose on her.
“I’m beginning to feel seriously unsafe,” Summers wrote.
The family, she said, was repeatedly calling the post office to ask about their stimulus check.
In an interview, Cummings said the situation was weighing on Summers.
“She did not want to be taken off her route, but she was feeling uneasy and mad that the family wouldn’t just be responsible and keep their dogs contained.”
Summer’s final Facebook posts came Monday, as she was about to head back out on her route. Again, she knew she’d have to pass the house on North Denny Street.
“Ugh! So I’m supposed to ask myself, ‘is this a hill you’re willing to die on,’” she wrote. “Pretty much it is, considering I alone support two households and cannot afford more risk than I already take in light of my age and health, lack of an actual physical support system, and visit a high number of at risk customers daily…That makes this a hill I would die on even though I don’t like it one bit.”
Five hours later, she was dead.
Alondra Salazar, 19, lives with her mother in the house next door to the Cushingberry family. Late that Monday afternoon, just as she was taking a nap, she heard a loud bang.
“At first I thought something had fallen in the house,” Salazar said. “I heard someone knocking.”
When Salazar opened the front door, she said, she saw Summers leaning against the door with a gunshot wound in her chest. Undelivered mail was scattered at her feet, along with a small bottle of hand sanitizer and a can of mace.
Salazar called 911 and held Summers’ hand and tried to calm her as they waited for paramedics. Summers was hyperventilating and having trouble speaking. She asked if she could call her boss. She asked if she had been shot. She mumbled something about her daughter. Salazar began to cry.
In a phone video shot by Salazar’s mother, the mail carrier is slumped against the side of the house clutching her chest. Salazar’s mother screams for help as sirens wail down the street.
“The ambulance! The ambulance! The ambulance, please!”
As police officers approach, they ask “Is she alive?”
“I don’t know,” Salazar says.
The officers lay Summers down. “Can you hear me?” asks one. “Where does it hurt?”
“I can’t feel anything,” she says.
Summers was taken by ambulance to Eskenazi Hospital. She died at 5:31 p.m.
Tuesday evening, Cushingberry-Mays was arrested by IMPD and admitted to the shooting, according to court documents..
According to the documents, Cushingberry-Mays told detectives he followed Summers next door after she passed his house without delivering the mail. From about six feet away, he asked Summers for the family’s mail. Summers turned around and maced him, he said. He said he knew the mace was not deadly, but it triggered his asthma.
As his mother and cousin watched from the porch yelling, “Tony, no!” he pulled a handgun from his waistband and fired one shot.
He told detectives he wanted to scare her. He said he didn’t mean to kill her.
In Bloomington, Summers’ former partner, Mel Davis, started a GoFundMe to pay for funeral expenses. Davis said on the site that Summers had not been able to see her daughter for more than a month due to coronavirus restrictions.
“She never got the opportunity to tell her daughter that she loved her one last time,” she wrote. “Her teen daughter never got to say ‘I love you’ or even goodbye to her mother….
“Now, she never will.”
Link to GoFundMe for Summers’ funeral expenses: