3 dead in courthouse shooting in Delaware

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WILMINGTON, Del. -- A gunman who spent years in court battles over child-custody disputes opened fire Monday in the lobby of a Delaware courthouse, leaving two women dead before police fatally shot him, authorities said.

"It happened so fast," said Jose Beltran, 53, an employee at the New Castle County Courthouse, who was entering the lobby when he heard two shots. He said he turned around and heard three or more shots as he ran.

Delaware State Police Sgt. Paul Shavack said the suspected gunman and two women are dead. Wilmington Mayor Dennis Williams said in a phone interview that one of the women killed was the shooter's estranged wife, but Sgt. Shavack said police had not confirmed that was the case and cautioned against information from other sources.

Sgt. Shavack did not say how the gunman died. He said two police officers suffered non-life-threatening injuries.

Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden said at an afternoon news conference that the shooting was not a random act of violence, but the result of a custody dispute. "It's developed out of a long -- over the course of many years -- custody dispute in the courts of this state," he said.

Earlier, Sgt. Shavak said the gunman opened fire before he passed metal detectors in the lobby.

Chick Chinski, 62, of Middletown, said he was entering the courthouse to report for jury duty when he heard popping sounds. "It didn't sound like gunfire first at all," said Mr. Chinski, adding that he saw the gunman pointing his weapon.

He said it seemed that the shooter deliberately targeted the two women who were shot as they stood in the middle of the lobby. "Absolutely," he said. "It's right what he went after when he came in the door. That's exactly what he did instantly."

Mr. Chinski said that before the shooting, he shared an elevator with the gunman and others from the parking garage. The gunman was quiet and did not appear agitated, Mr. Chinski said.

In the hours after the shooting, dozens of police cars and emergency vehicles were on the streets surrounding the courthouse. Police searched the courthouse room by room as a precaution.

Dick Lawyer works part time across the street at the law office of Casarino, Christman, Shalk, Ransom & Doss. He said his office building was on lockdown for a few hours, starting about 8:15 a.m. The shooting occurred about five minutes earlier. He said he and colleagues were shaken at first but calmer hours later. "We have a couple of people whose relatives work at the courthouse," said Mr. Lawyer, who works as a document management specialist for the firm.

He said the parking garage in the basement of the building, called the Renaissance Center, was still on lockdown as of 3:20 p.m. Monday.

A news release from the state court administrator said the county courthouse would be closed today for the investigation and repairs.



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