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Man killed after shooting at Wheeling federal courthouse

By Staff, wire reports

WHEELING -- A man armed with what a federal marshal described as an AK-47 assault rifle fired up to two-dozen rounds at the federal courthouse in Wheeling on Wednesday until police returned fire and killed him, the West Virginia State Police said.

Wheeling Police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger identified the gunman as Thomas J. Piccard, 55, of Bridgeport, Ohio. He was a retired Wheeling police officer.

Three on-duty security officers were injured by flying debris during the onslaught, Schwertfeger told a news conference.

State Police spokesman Sgt. Michael Baylous said officers arrived and shot the suspect, killing him. Witnesses reported hearing dozens of gunshots, he said.

U.S. Marshal Patrick Sedoti said the man was armed with an AK-47 and also was carrying a Glock pistol.

Wheeling Mayor Andy McKenzie said police who briefed him earlier Wednesday told him Piccard was a 20-year-plus veteran of the force who retired 13 years ago.

Investigators were seeking a search warrant for Piccard's home in hopes of determining a motive and if he acted alone, said Chief Deputy Mike Claxton of the Marshals Service in northern West Virginia.

Asked if the gunman had any beef with the U.S. government, Claxton said, "We're really digging hard at this point to find out."

Claxton said Piccard began firing from a parking lot across from the federal building. "He was observed in the parking lot very quickly after the first shots were fired," he said.

Courthouse security and local police shot at Piccard. Claxton did not know if there was an exchange of gunfire.

Officials said it was too early to tell whether Piccard was targeting anyone in the building or what his motive may have been.

"That's still trying to be determined," said Bob Johnson, the assistant special agent in charge of the FBI's Pittsburgh office.

The three-story gray federal building remained cordoned off Wednesday night, surrounded by a heavy police presence in the city along the Ohio River in the Northern Panhandle. The building houses several courtrooms and related offices, including judges, prosecutors and law enforcement.

U.S. Attorney Bill Ihlenfeld said shots were fired into at least three rooms in his office on the building's second floor. He described hearing gunshots, then panic among staff.

"Members of my staff were crawling on the floor or running from office to office telling people to get away from the windows," he said.

Ihlenfeld said he knew Piccard from 1997 when he started working in the city prosecutor's office until the officer retired in 2000. He said he had no reason to believe his office was targeted, and that Piccard was not under any sort of investigation by federal authorities.

"There was nothing about my relation with him or anything that I observed in dealing with him ... to cause me to think anything like this would happen," he said.

About 40 percent of Ihlenfeld's staff was furloughed because of the federal government shutdown, so many weren't working on Wednesday.

"To be honest, the security plans in place to deal with a situation like this don't work when we don't have everybody there," he said, without elaborating.

David Wohlfeil, owner of the Metropolitan City Grill near the courthouse, said he ran outside after he heard the first round of shots. He heard two more volleys of gunfire then ran back inside.

"I told everyone to get in the basement and then called 911," he said, adding that police arrived while he was on the phone.

Gazette staff writer Travis Crum contributed to this report, as did the AP's John Raby from Charleston, Larry O'Dell and Steve Szkotak from Richmond, Va., and Brock Vergakis from Norfolk, Va.

 


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