3 dead after gunman opens fire in Wilmington courthouse

Delaware State Police Sgt. Paul Shavack updates the media at a noon press conference on the shooting in the lobby this morning at the New Castle County Courthouse, Wilmington, Delaware, February 11, 2013. ( DAVID M WARREN / Staff Photographer )
Delaware State Police Sgt. Paul Shavack updates the media at a noon press conference on the shooting in the lobby this morning at the New Castle County Courthouse, Wilmington, Delaware, February 11, 2013. ( DAVID M WARREN / Staff Photographer )
Posted: February 12, 2013

A gunman opened fire in a Wilmington, Del. courthouse, this morning, leaving five people shot and three of those dead in what law enforcement described as a targeted shooting based on a child custody dispute.

The gunman was among the dead. Two women were also killed.

Two law enforcement officers were among those shot in the barrage.

Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden said in a short press conference at 3:15 p.m. that the shooting "was not a random act of violence."

"This was the result of a custody dispute that has lasted in our court system for several years," Biden said.

But he would not confirm reports that the targeted woman was Christine Belford, whose children were kidnapped by her estranged husband, David Matsuweicz, in 2007. He also would not confirm identities of the shooter or other victim. Philly.com was withholding the suspected shooter's name until police officially confirm it. Police did say he was a white man between 50 and 60 years old.

Matusiewicz was previously involved in a bitter custody fight with ex-wife that involved the kidnapping his three daughters.

The case made national headlines and was featured on America's Most Wanted.

According to court records and federal authorities, he took the young children to Central America in 2007. There, they traveled in a motor home through Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica and Nicaragua for more than a year and a half.

Matusiewicz was arrested in Nicaragua in March 2009. He pleaded guilty to bank fraud -- admitting that he forged his ex-wife's name to get a home equity loan -- and international parental kidnapping later that year. He was sentenced to four years in prison in December 2009.

Online records from the federal Bureau of Prisons show he was released from custody in September.

Shavack, the state police spokesman, said the courthouse has been swept for evidence and all employees and civilians have left the building.

The courthouse will remain closed tomorrow, Biden said.

Shavack said identities of the shooter and the victims won't be released until the medical examiner has confirmed, and their families have been notified.

The two police officers were treated and released from a local hospital.

Officials said there was an exchange of gunfire and investigators were still piecing together what happened. It wasn't immediately known how many bullets were fired.

Investigators are determining whether the gunman was shot by police or took his own life, said Sgt. Paul Shavack, a Delaware State Police spokesman.

The shootings at the New Castle County Courthouse in Wilmington took place around 8:15 a.m., just as courtrooms were readying for the day. The shooting happened in the building's lobby; no one involved had gone through the security checkpoint, authorities said.

Investigators don't believe the shooter had any type of note on him, police said.

Authorities were searching the floors of the courthouse, located at 500 N. King St., throughout the morning. Officials said they did not believe the gunman had an accomplice, but said the search was the norm in an active-shooter situation.

"They went from floor to floor, room to room," Shavack said.

Police said the two officers wounded were Delaware Capitol Police officers. Their injuries are not considered life-threatening. The Capitol Police force protects state-owned facilities in Delaware.

One officer was a 50-year-old man who had served for less than a year; the other was a 42-year-old man who was a seven-year veteran.

The two are "doing well," Shavack said. The bullets struck the officers' protective vests.

Just after 11 a.m., armed police officers were still in front of the courthouse as news media and local residents stood by. Police cars have blocked off streets around the complex.

People who were at the courthouse at the time described a chaotic scene after the shootout.

Earlier, Emma Harding was on a lower level of the complex when she heard three gunshots and police shouting "shots are fired, shots are fired."

The 21-year-old parking attendant headed for the Dunkin' Donuts shop in the courthouse. She said about 100 people ran into the small area, hiding behind the counter and in two closets.

Many were shaken up or crying, and some had lost their shoes in the scramble to escape, she said.

People who were inside the courthouse were sequestered, Shavack said. Early this afternoon, police had finished interviewing them and they were in the process of being released.

One man who was reporting for jury duty, 68-year-old Bob Zigler, of Newark, had just gone through security when the shooting began.

"At first I thought something dropped," he said. But more gunshots came and "they all started yelling, 'Get down!'"

Zigler said everyone was ushered into a secure room where they stood for about 30 minutes. Later, the group was held in another room with people from various floors. One man in the room believed he had been chatting with the gunman in the lobby before he went through security.

"They must have seen him on security tape talking to the guy," Zigler said. Later, officers went into the room looking for the man and said, "You need to come with us."

In a locker room, bailiff Jennifer Robinson heard people running into the atrium area. She went into a hallway and looked over a balcony.

She heard gunshots and saw broken glass.

"There was a lot of commotion," said Robinson, who took cover in a communications room.

Brittany Mangrum, 24, was headed up the courthouse stairs to pay a fine when the doors opened and people began to run from inside.

"I decided to turn around and run with them," she said.

Ralph Hilton, 61, was at work when he received a call from his sister, Victoria Warren, who was at the courthouse for jury duty.

"I'm scared," she said, crying to him. "I heard gunshots."

She was hiding with a few others in a small room, Hilton said.

A block up from the courthouse on 4th Street, chiropractor Alicia Gower and medical assistant Natalie Atkinson sat in an empty office. Police tape blocked the intersection outside their window.

"Nobody's been in today," Atkinson said. Four patients had rescheduled.

The women have been watching the news unfold on television, and chatting with two cops who came in occasionally to watch, too.

"They said the two law enforcement officers are gonna be OK, so that's good," Gower said.

Contact the Breaking News Desk at 215-854-2443; BreakingNewsDesk@philly.com. Follow @phillynews on Twitter.

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