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Mail delivery resumes, but mystery into missing key at Columbia City post office continues

A look at the United States Postal Service office in Columbia City in Seattle. (KOMO News)
A look at the United States Postal Service office in Columbia City in Seattle. (KOMO News)
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The mystery of the missing master key from a Seattle post office remains just that.

Customers in the 98118 zip code in Columbia City lost mail delivery for about a week after the master key went missing in early May.

“That’s been obviously the work of a crew who stole the key or something and had that window of opportunity that, you know, for everybody in the neighborhood trying to access whatever they could get their hands on. The thing that’s concerning is that they’ll probably try to do it again,” said April Cound, who lives in the Columbia City neighborhood.

Cound and most others, no longer need to go to the post office to pick up their mail after a postal inspector said they made several security and safety measures to resume delivery and fix broken mailboxes.

"Unfortunately, ours is the only one that’s not fixed," said Caroline Duemas, as she walked out of the Columbia City Post Office with a handful of mail.

Kim Frum, with the U.S. Postal Service told KOMO News that the post office fixed all of the boxes that it owns and maintains, but apartment complexes with private boxes hold the responsibility to fix those mailboxes.

Duemas is making regular trips to the post office hoping to pickup things that they know were supposed to be delivered.

"Yeah, my daughter's Orca card. I hope it’s here," said Duemas, pointing to the stack of envelopes.

So, how does a master key go missing? The postal inspector told KOMO News the answer to that question, and others, cannot yet be divulged to maintain the integrity of the ongoing investigation.

"Well, it’s just a little bit confusing, knowing what’s going on, what’s been done about it. At least we were notified by our HOA that something happened. We do know that locks are being changed and here (at the Columbia City office) they are helpful about telling me what is being done,” said Cound.

KOMO News is also asking what the staffing situation is at the Columbia City USPS office. Frum told KOMO that there's no correlation between staffing and the problem at the Columbia City Post Office. That question was asked after we first reported in April that the post office was holding large-scale hiring events across the region, working to overcome short staffing issues.

Those events, spokesperson Kim Frum told KOMO News, took place at 53 locations across Washington state, plus 199 others throughout Oregon, Idaho and Montana.

More than 200 people applied for a variety of postal jobs throughout Washington, with more than 600 across all four states in the region. Frum told KOMO that they have close to 40 people in various stages of the hiring process for postal jobs, as a result of the four-state hiring blitz. Together with monthly job fair events, she said there are now nearly 200 applicants statewide who are expected to be hired within the next few weeks.

RELATED: Mail theft spiking in Western Washington; more mail carriers hurt on the job

Stealing mail is a federal crime. When mail theft or fraud is reported, it will be investigated by a federal postal inspector.

Staffing is just one issue the postal system is dealing with right now.

Its inspectors also work on thousands of criminal investigations every year.

Just last year, those investigations led to 4,291 arrests that resulted in 3,947 convictions, mostly for prohibited items, theft and the assault and robberies of employees.

Drugs are part of the prohibited mail, and in 2022, the post office said it netted 2,110 arrests for illegal narcotics cases.

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You might not associate the postal service with the sexual exploitation of children, but postal inspectors also handled six investigations into this in 2022, which led to five convictions. To date, the postal service reports more progress in identifying more than 20,000 sexual abuse victims.

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