Detroit — The FBI on Friday assumed the lead in investigating the shooting of a Detroit federal judge, offering a $25,000 reward in the case and saying they couldn't confirm the incident was random.
The shooting by two men appeared to be part of a botched robbery late Thursday outside Terrence Berg's Tudor-style home unrelated to Berg's day job, but investigators said they have not reached any conclusions.
The judge's high-profile job helps explain why a common crime in the nation's most dangerous big city triggered an uncommon law-enforcement response, which by Friday included an FBI-led manhunt and investigation alongside the U.S. Marshals Service and Detroit Police Department.
The shooting happened 25 years after Berg penned a letter bemoaning Detroiters' "childish love affair with firearms," and questioning whether city leaders would "find the courage to outlaw them."
"We moved to our beautiful neighborhood in Detroit four months ago filled with hope and optimism for this city," Berg wrote in a letter to the Detroit Free Press on Jan. 9, 1990. "In our brief time here we have already learned that until this city outgrows its childish love affair with firearms, or until city officials find the courage to outlaw them, many of our hopes will remain unrealized and our optimism unfounded."
In 2012, U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, questioned Berg about the letter during his Senate confirmation hearing.
"Detroiters, for whatever reason, fire off weapons on New Year's Eve, and so you hear gunfire," Berg said. "And it was worrisome to us. It was worrisome for our safety at the time. And, frankly, it was worrisome to me in terms of the city getting its violent crime problem under control. What I meant when I talked about outlawing them was really more outlawing this conduct of firing weapons and outlawing the unlawful possession of firearms."
Berg learned late Thursday his worry was not unwarranted.
Berg, 55, suffered a non-life-threatening leg wound about 9:10 p.m. Thursday in front of his home in a normally quiet part of the city near Seven Mile and Livernois. The entire incident lasted about 30 seconds and came as Berg was putting his trash cans outside. Two men approached him from behind and asked to be let into the house but Berg told them he couldn't do that and he was shot, a person briefed on the matter told The News.
The two are described as approximately 18-25 years old and they fled in a dark-colored sedan, possibly a Dodge Charger, according to the FBI.
Berg underwent surgery Friday, though the FBI and his family would not disclose his exact medical condition.
The shooting is another incident of high-profile people victimized in Detroit, a club of notables that includes the late civil rights icon Rosa Parks (mugging), Detroit Police Chief James Craig (carjacking attempt) and U.S. Secret Service agents whose truck carrying equipment for a visit by Vice President Joe Biden was stolen in 2012.
Despite reductions in violent crime in the city, the shooting is a reminder that crime rates remain "intolerably high," U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade told The News.
With 14,500 violent crimes, Detroit was the nation's most dangerous big city in 2013, according to the FBI. Detroit had nearly 41,000 property crimes, 11,750 burglaries and about 1,200 non-fatal shootings — or more than three a day.
McQuade is involved with the Detroit One initiative targeting violent crime. The group has requested more resources from the Justice Department to fight violent crime, she said.
"The shooting of Judge Berg is upsetting to us, but no more upsetting than shootings of other victims, who are just as deserving of safety in their neighborhoods," she said.
"Every shooting motivates us to work harder to prevent others from becoming victims. We are making progress, and are committed to doing all we can to give our residents the kind of public safety we all deserve."
Minutes after the shooting, police arrived at the scene and asked Berg if he wanted them to take him to the hospital. It's not clear when or if EMS had been called or arrived.
"He was walking up this path here and someone approached him, and I don't know why," said Berg's wife, Anita Sevier, in an interview with WWJ-AM (950).
Police believe the suspects were either trying to rob Berg or strong-arm him into letting them into his home. Next-door neighbor Dalton Roberson Jr. said he was home with his wife and children when he heard one gunshot.
"We heard a loud noise, but we didn't initially attribute it to being a gunshot," said Roberson, 42. "We assumed it was just the kids playing around in the house."
Roberson said he was headed upstairs where his children were playing when he noticed activity next door.
"I heard (Berg's wife) Anita in a bit of distress," Roberson said. "I actually looked through my living room window and noticed that he was laid out."
Police responded almost immediately, Roberson said.
Roberson said he feels safe in the neighborhood.
"Like all neighborhoods in Detroit, there are issues with tire theft or attempted automobile break-ins," he said. "But I feel incredibly safe here. The neighbors all look out for one another; we know each other."
There also is a radio patrol unit that monitors the neighborhood, Roberson said.
"We see the flashing yellow lights on the vehicles patrolling the street quite frequently so I know that they have a very significant presence here," he said.
Roberson said it may simply have been bad luck the shooter struck while the patrol was on another section of its route.
"The radio patrol had done their patrol already and had probably moved on to another block."
Neighbors described Berg as a community man who served as "block captain" for years and is involved in neighborhood running and bicycling groups.
Jen Willemsen, 34, said Berg and his wife purchased and rehabbed a foreclosed home across the street.
"They didn't want it to be empty so they bought it," said Willemsen, who lives several doors down from the judge's house on a street lined with large, well-kept brick homes.
Berg also helps his teen son shovel snow for people on the block, she said.
"His son is raising money for a mission trip, but Terry ends up doing it," she said.
But Willemsen said she was victim of a similar crime on the same street two years ago.
"I got robbed in front of my own house," she said. "It was about the same time of the night and (the robber) put a gun in my face."
After the robbery, the assailant fled to a minivan waiting nearby, Willemsen said.
Chief U.S. District Judge Gerald Rosen also said the entire federal court was thinking of Berg.
"While we are relieved to hear that all indications are that Judge Berg will be fine and make a quick recovery, the thoughts and prayers of our entire court family are with him and his family," Rosen said late Thursday.
Only a handful of federal judges have been shot in U.S. history, most recently Judge John Roll, who was shot and killed in January 2011 near Tucson, Arizona, outside a Safeway where Rep. Gabrielle Gifford, D-Arizona, was meeting with constituents.
Anyone with information is asked to call the FBI at (313) 965-2323 (select option "0"), the U.S. Marshals Service at (313) 234-5600, or the Detroit Police Department at (313) 267-4600.
Staff Writer Tom Greenwood contributed.