ST. JOSEPH, Mich. » A jail inmate trying to escape from a western Michigan courthouse wrested a gun from an officer today, killing two bailiffs and injuring two more people before he was fatally shot by other officers, a sheriff said.
People scrambled for cover inside the Berrien County Courthouse in St. Joseph, a city of about 8,300 people in the southwestern corner of Michigan, about 100 miles northeast of Chicago.
“Our hearts are torn apart. … I have known them for over 30 years. It’s a sad day,” Sheriff Paul Bailey said of the bailiffs.
Larry Darnell Gordon, 44, who was locked up on several felony charges, was being moved from a cell for a courtroom appearance when a fight occurred and he was able to disarm an officer, Bailey said. The sheriff did not say what charges the inmate was facing.
Bailey said it does not appear that Gordon was handcuffed, adding authorities had “no warning signs” that the suspect would be violent.
The inmate shot a sheriff’s deputy, killed the bailiffs and then shot a civilian in the arm in a public area, the sheriff said.
During the incident, Bailey said Gordon took hostages for a short period before trying to leave through another door. The inmate then was fatally shot “by two other bailiffs who came to render aid, along with several other officers,” Bailey said.
“He was trying to escape,” the sheriff said.
Bailey identified the bailiffs killed as Joseph Zangaro, 61, and Ronald Kienzle, 63. He said the longtime law enforcement officers were close friends of his who became court officers after retiring from their departments.
Zangaro was head of court security. He retired from the Michigan State Police as commander of the Bridgman Post in Berrien County. Kienzle retired as a sergeant of the Benton Township police department after serving in the U.S. Army.
Both had been employed by the court for more than a decade.
The injuries suffered by the deputy and the civilian weren’t considered life-threatening. Bailey said the deputy, 41-year-old James Atterberry Jr., had surgery on his arm and is “doing fine.” He said the civilian was a woman who also suffered an arm injury. He did not identify her.
Bailey said the courthouse would be closed on Tuesday.
Gordon’s ex-wife, Jessica Gordon, told WOOD-TV and the Detroit Free Press that he likely was trying escape to see his family. She added that he was “not a monster,” but “an amazing man that got mixed up with the wrong people.”
Jessica Gordon said they divorced earlier this year but he remained close with his 6-year-old daughter. His ex-wife said she spoke with him Sunday and had no indication he was planning an attack.
Gov. Rick Snyder cut short a visit to Midland and traveled across the state to St. Joseph to meet with investigators and victims’ families.
Snyder called it a “terrible day in a wonderful community.”