3 fatally shot, including gunman, at Berrien County Courthouse

July 11, 2016 in News by RBN Staff


Source: The Detroit News | Chad Livengood and Candice Williams

court bailiff killing

Berrien County Sheriff Paul Bailey said two bailiffs were fatally shot and two others — a sheriff’s deputy and a civilian — injured in the Berrien County Courthouse on Monday in a “disturbance” on the third floor of the courthouse.

The suspect was shot and killed , Bailey said.

“We ask people to pray for the families of the deceased,” Bailey said.

The incident occurred around 2:25 p.m. on the third floor of the courthouse, Bailey said during a news conference Monday.

The suspect was in the process of being transferred from a holding cell into the custody of bailiffs inside the courthouse when a fight occurred, Bailey said. The suspect got hold of one of the officers’ guns and began firing. The two bailiffs were fatally shot.

Bailey said the suspect was attempting to escape. He was in custody on several charges, Bailey said, declining to provide further details.

Several hours after the shooting, yellow police tape surrounded the courthouse as law enforcement officials continued to work the scene.

Sheriff’s detectives interviewed courthouse employees who worked on the third floor.

Some workers and civilians who had been in the building at the time remained at the scene, shaking their head in disbelief.

“I just saw people running,” said Chris Reardon, a Stevensville resident who was in a courtroom waiting for a friend’s case. “I thought there was a bomb.”

When Reardon couldn’t immediately find his friend afterward, he worried he had been shot. But the two later met outside the courtroom.

Gov. Rick Snyder flew to southwest Michigan for the briefing after touring businesses in the tricities area this afternoon.

“This is a particularly tough time for law enforcement across the state and across the country,” Snyder said. “We need to rally to support one another.”

The governor made the sobering remarks at a news conference outside of the courthouse, just four days after five Dallas police officers were gunned down during a protest over the fatal police shootings of black men in Minnesota and Louisiana.

Once the Michigan State Police Crime Lab is done processing the scene, autopsies were to be conducted.

The shooting did not appear to be racially motivated, according to a source briefed by the Michigan State Police about the preliminary investigation.

Numerous law enforcement agencies responded with the Sheriff’s Department including Michigan State Police and St. Joseph Public Safety Department.

The names of the bailiffs were not released Monday. Each were longtime law enforcement officers and bailiffs for the past 10 years, Bailey said.

“Our hearts are torn apart,” Bailey said. “They were our colleagues. They were our friends.

A Michigan Department of Corrections probation agent was inside the courtroom when the shooting occurred, but was not harmed, department spokesman Chris Gautz said. The probation department has an office in the building.

“We had a probation agent in the courtroom and she saw the gunman run past her,” Gautz said.

“All MDOC probation staff are safe and accounted for. Prayers for those shot today and those still inside,” Gautz said on Twitter.

Berrien County Clerk Sharon Tyler said the courthouse was locked down Monday with county workers inside the building.

“The people who are in (the courthouse) are still in here,” Tyler said Monday. Her office is on a different floor from where the shootings took place, she said.

According to a local media report shared on the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department Facebook page, an officer was injured after being shot in the left arm and finger.

The courthouse will be closed Tuesday, Bailey said. Counselors were on the scene Monday to talk with employees.

The incident drew a quick outpouring of support and condolences.

“I am deeply saddened to learn of the shooting today in my hometown of St. Joseph,” Proos wrote. “My thoughts and prayers as well as those of my family are with the victims and all those affected by this tragedy,” said Sen. John Proos, R-St. Joseph.

“At the time of the incident, I was at my constituent service office just a block away from the courthouse,” he said. “I can therefore attest to the professionalism and outright heroism of law enforcement agencies as well as first responders from all over Southwest Michigan. These men and women get up every day and put themselves in harm’s way in order to serve and protect our community. Today, they were met with violence, and apparently, several have lost their lives. We must continue to stand together with our friends, family and neighbors who serve in law enforcement and as public servants in our local government. They make our community strong.”

Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert P. Young Jr. also shared his thoughts.

“Our prayers and condolences go out to those affected by today’s shooting at the Berrien County Courthouse,” he wrote in a statement. “This tragic incident is another sad reminder that courthouse employees put their lives at risk every day to serve the people of Michigan. As we await further details and the results of the ongoing State Police investigation, we stand ready to implement steps to further strengthen courthouse security to better protect both employees and the public.”

U.S. Senator Gary Peters also issued a statement Monday.

“I’m deeply saddened by the tragic shootings at the Berrien County Courthouse in St. Joseph,” he wrote. “I join my fellow Michiganders in grieving for all those affected by this senseless tragedy, including the two public servants who lost their lives. We are still awaiting more details of what happened during this heartbreaking event, and I will continue to monitor the situation as more information becomes available.”

St. Joseph is located in far southwest Michigan’s Berrien County, which borders Indiana.