ST. JOSEPH, Mich. — Two bailiffs were killed and a deputy sheriff wounded in a shooting Monday afternoon at a courthouse in Berrien County, Mich., when an inmate being transferred from a cell grabbed a gun and opened fire as he tried to flee, authorities said.
The gunman — identified by police as 45-year-old Larry Darnell Gordon from Coloma, Mich. — was shot and killed by other bailiffs, but only after he had shot four people, two of them fatally, Sheriff L. Paul Bailey said at a news conference. In addition to the bailiffs and the deputy, the inmate shot a civilian in the arm.
“All indication is that he was trying to break out of jail,” Bailey said.
Bailey identified the bailiffs who were killed as Joseph Zangaro, 61, and Ron Kienzle, 63.
Zangaro, head of courthouse security, retired from the Michigan State Police and has been working with the county trial court system since 2004. Kienzle, a former police sergeant and serviceman, has been working for the court system since 2005.
“I lost some friends today,” Bailey, who was visibly shaken, said during the briefing. “So I’m here with a heavy heart.”
The incident began on the courthouse’s third floor shortly before 2:30 p.m. As Gordon was being taken out of a holding cell to go to a courtroom for an arraignment, a fight took place and he “was able to get the deputy’s gun away,” Bailey said.
Gordon moved out of that area, shot and killed the two bailiffs, and then took “several hostages for a short period of time until he tried to leave through another door,” Bailey said. That’s when two other bailiffs shot and killed Gordon.
All the officers involved were armed.
Jail records provide little information on Gordon, but they indicate he is a 44-year-old white man who was booked in April. (Bailey said he was 45, and the sheriff’s office listed that age in a statement early Tuesday morning.) The records do not list charges against him. Bailey said Gordon was being held in the county jail for “several felony charges.”
Gordon’s hands were restrained in front of him by handcuffs during the incident, Bailey said Tuesday. Earlier, he said Gordon did not appear to be handcuffed, information the sheriff later said was incorrect.
“We had no indications that he had been violent. He hasn’t been in our jail” previously, Bailey said. “At this time, we had no warning signs of him doing anything but we’re going to continue to investigate it.”
James Atterberry Jr., a 41-year-old deputy sheriff, was shot in the arm. Atterberry has worked for Berrien County since August 1998 and joined the Sheriff’s Office in July 2002.
He was taken to nearby Lakeland Regional Hospital and treated in the emergency room, Bailey said, and was in stable condition.
“I know that we’re all thinking of the two bailiffs who were killed and the sheriff’s deputy who was wounded in a shooting at a courthouse in Michigan yesterday,” Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch said Tuesday morning during an appearance on Capitol Hill, according to her prepared remarks. “The Department of Justice stands ready to provide whatever help we can to state and local authorities as they investigate this heinous crime and our sincerest condolences are with the friends, colleagues and loved ones of the devoted public servants that we lost.”
“Our hearts are torn apart,” Bailey said of the shooting deaths. “They were our friends. They were my colleagues. I’ve known them for over 30 years. So it’s a sad day.”
There were 10 court officers working Monday, Bailey said.
Chuck Heit, the Berrien County undersheriff, said in a telephone interview that both bailiffs were armed. Heit said they were both “deputized by the sheriff,” which makes them the latest law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty — their deaths coming just days after a gunman killed five police officers in Dallas.
That brings the number of law enforcement officers fatally shot by suspects while in the line of duty to 27, up from 16 a year ago — and slightly ahead of the average number at this point in the year (25) shown in FBI data over the last decade.
Bailey had said earlier that “several” civilians were hurt in the incident, including the one who was shot. Later on Monday, Bailey mentioned only one civilian being taken to the hospital.
“They went for shelter once the shooting occurred and other brave officers were able to come to their rescue and take the shooter down,” Bailey said.
Hours after the shooting, yellow police tape stretched around the courthouse as sheriff deputies in uniform and military gear patrolled the perimeter. People from the neighborhood gathered outside the perimeter of the building, which sits atop a ridge overlooking Lake Michigan in the heart of downtown St. Joseph.
Most stood silently, in shock that the mass violence they had read about in other parts of the United States had come to their small city.
“You live in a small town and think it won’t happen here, and then it does,” said Sally Crumley, 76, a retirement home worker. She said she worries that her son, a police officer in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., will be vulnerable following the shootings in St. Joseph and the events in Dallas. “It’s just sad. I don’t know what’s going on. Everything just seems to be in chaos these days.”
Jiera Welche, 38, lives across the street from the courthouse. When the shootings happened, she received a call from her husband, Lee, who told her to stay inside. The couple feared that snipers were attacking police, as Micah Xavier Johnson had in Dallas last week. “Nobody knew what was going on,” said Lee Welche, 40. “My first concern was for her.”
Marcus Muhammad, mayor of nearby Benton Harbor, said that the shooting “was a reminder that tragedy can strike anywhere at any time.”
“The thing about this tragedy is that it showed that it can happen at any place and time, even in this great community,” Muhammad said. “Send your prayers this way, because we need them.”
The Michigan State Police said they responded to the shooting, and Gov. Rick Snyder (R) posted on Twitter at 3:30 p.m. that the state police “secured the scene at the Berrien County courthouse and started its investigation into the shooting that occurred this afternoon.”
“This is a particularly tough time for law enforcement, so I ask everyone to reach out and . . . [show ] support for law enforcement across the state and across the country,” Snyder said at the news conference Monday evening.
Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said after the shooting that “we must do better to prevent these types of tragedies.”
“What occurred today in my hometown breaks my heart,” he said in a statement. “My thoughts are with our entire community – our friends and neighbors. This tragic event reminds us all too well that our law enforcement officers have their lives on the line every day, not knowing what that day will bring. We have lost two very able public servants and we all grieve for them and their families.”
Video footage posted online that appeared to be from outside the courthouse in southwestern Michigan showed numerous police vehicles, their lights flashing, parked outside the building shortly after the shooting.
Chris Gautz, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Corrections, which operates a probation office in the courthouse, said one of the department’s employees was in a third-floor courtroom at the time of the shooting and saw the gunman.
“We had a probation officer in the courtroom when it happened, and the gunman ran right past [her] and the rest of the folks,” Gautz said in a telephone interview. He said the courtroom remained on lockdown.
Gautz said that all members of the probation office’s staff were secure and none was injured in the shooting.
The courthouse is about 50 miles west of Kalamazoo, where an Uber driver killed six people in a shooting spree this year.
Berman and Izadi reported from Washington. Kimberly Kindy contributed to this report.
[This story, first published on Monday, has been updated and corrected. A previous version identified Muhammad as mayor of St. Joseph.]