Berrien shooter was facing kidnapping, sex charges
St. Joseph — An inmate who shot and killed two Berrien County Courthouse bailiffs Monday after wresting a gun from a sheriff’s deputy in a hallway scuffle faced more serious charges than originally thought.
Larry Darnell Gordon, 44, who had just appeared in court for a hearing over a misdemeanor domestic violence charge, also faced charges of assault, kidnapping, two counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, and aggravated domestic violence, according to court records.
The first three were felonies and the last a misdemeanor.
Further details about the alleged offenses weren’t available. The courthouse was closed Tuesday because of the shooting.
Berrien County Circuit Judge Charles LaSata said Monday it was “just an ordinary day” when the defendant left his courtroom escorted by a sheriff’s deputy and was headed back to the county jail about 2:25 p.m.
Within moments, LaSata said he could hear a scuffle and shouting in an adjoining hallway as he watched his bailiff run out of the courtroom without his gun drawn.
“My bailiff, as he was running to the danger to protect me and everybody in my courtroom, he did not yet have his gun drawn and it couldn’t have been more than five to 10 seconds after he went through that door from my courtroom that I heard the two shots,” LaSata said Monday in an exclusive interview with The Detroit News. “He ran back to the secure area and was killed.”
“The second bailiff heard the shot, the two shots fired, and then he came running and he was also killed,” the judge said.
Courthouse bailiffs Joe Zangaro and Ron Kienzle were killed by Gordon, according to Berrien County Sheriff Paul Bailey.
Gordon, of Coloma, was attempting to escape while in custody of a deputy, whom he shot, Bailey said. woman also was shot. The injuries to her and the deputy, James Atterberry Jr., weren’t life-threatening.
The inmate was handcuffed at the time, with his hands in front of him, Bailey said Tuesday.
Bailey said he misspoke Monday when he said Gordon wasn’t handcuffed while being escorted from a holding cell to a courtroom.
Bailey said the deaths weighed heavily on him and he had a restless night Monday trying to sleep.
“Both were good friends,” he said about the victims. “They were great friends, great people.”
Zangaro was a retired Michigan State Police trooper and head of courthouse security. He had been employed by the Berrien County trial court since 2004, Bailey said.
Kienzle, 63, was retired from the Benton Charter Township police department and had worked at the courthouse since 2005, Bailey said.
“They were just loving guys and their lives were tragically ended today,” Bailey said at a 9 p.m. news conference outside of the courthouse.
U.S. Rep. Fred Upton briefly addressed the House of Representatives Tuesday about the attack in his "hometown of St. Joe," asking for prayers on behalf of the victims and their families.
"I rise today to offer support and love for the victims' friends, family and certain our entire community. We should continue to keep those affected in our hearts, (and) in our minds," he said. "Swift actions of those on the ground need to be commended, particularly the Berrien County Sheriff Department, led by Sheriff Paul Bailey.
"I was with him just this past Saturday," Upton said. "What he had to endure the last 24 hours is unthinkable."
Upton ended his speech by mentioning each victim by name.
"It is times like these when we need to unite as one. This heartbreaking tragedy happened in the blink of the eye but we will never forget," Upton said during his minute-and-a-half speech. "We will remember and honor Joe Zangaro, who I knew personally... We will remember and honor Ronald Kienzle, a U.S. Army vet... So I ask my colleagues, and those who hear this message across the country, to pray for the families of the two victims."
Upton also mentioned an injured deputy and civilian, asking the public to pray for their "speedy recovery."
"We will get through this together," he said, before yielding the floor Tuesday.
Gordon worked in automotive detailing and home improvement and had been in the county jail since April 20, according to his ex-wife, Jessica Gordon of Coloma.
Jessica Gordon said she and Larry were divorced in February, but had continued to raise a daughter together who turns 7 on Saturday. Tuesday would have been their 10-year wedding anniversary, Jessica Gordon said.
“That’s just a piece of paper,” she said of the divorce. “I love him, will always love him. I’m very numb.”
Jessica Gordon said the only motive her ex-husband would have to break out of jail is “he was terrified of going away.”
“I’m having a hard time believing that it’s true,” Jessica Gordon told The Detroit News.
Hitting the panic button
As the shooting began, LaSata said he immediately hit his panic button — only the second time he’s had to do so in 12 years on the bench — and ushered three female courtroom employees into his chambers, where they locked themselves in a bathroom until police secured the building.
“I was on the bench when all of this happened,” said LaSata, a former state representative from St. Joseph.
Several hours after the shooting Monday, yellow police tape surrounded the courthouse as law enforcement officials continued to work the scene.
Sheriff’s detectives interviewed courthouse employees who worked on the third floor.
Some workers and civilians who had been in the building at the time remained at the scene, shaking their heads in disbelief.
“I just saw people running,” said Chris Reardon, a Stevensville resident who was in a courtroom waiting for a friend’s case. “I thought there was a bomb.”
When Reardon couldn’t immediately find his friend afterward, he worried he had been shot. But the two later met outside the courtroom.
Gov. Rick Snyder flew to southwest Michigan on Monday afternoon for a briefing and news conference with the sheriff after touring a Dow Chemical facility in Midland.
The governor made sobering remarks at the news conference outside of the courthouse, just four days after five Dallas police officers were gunned down during a protest over the fatal police shootings of black men in Minnesota and Louisiana.
“This is a particularly tough time for law enforcement across the state and across the country,” Snyder said. “We need to rally to support one another.”
Once the Michigan State Police Crime Lab is done processing the scene, autopsies were to be conducted.
“Our hearts are torn apart,” Bailey said. “They were our colleagues. They were our friends.”
‘Very serious felony charges’
Bailey said Larry Gordon “was in custody for several charges.”
LaSata said Gordon was in his courtroom on a domestic violence charge, which the county prosecutor was seeking to have dismissed because of “very serious felony charges” he was facing.
The courthouse was locked down for several hours Monday afternoon, leaving county employees stuck inside the building, Berrien County Clerk Sharon Tyler said.
A Michigan Department of Corrections probation agent was inside the courtroom when the shooting occurred, but was not harmed, department spokesman Chris Gautz said.
“We had a probation agent in the courtroom and she saw the gunman run past her,” Gautz said.
The Probation Department has an office on the third floor where the shooting occurred.
“All MDOC probation staff are safe and accounted for. Prayers for those shot today and those still inside,” Gautz said on Twitter.
Residents who gathered outside the courthouse Monday night said they couldn’t believe it was the setting for such carnage.
“It’s the last place you expect,” said Robyn Cafferty, of St. Joseph. “It’s where all the cops are.”
Candice Williams contributed.