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Thousands march to honor victims of Berrien shooting

Francis X. Donnelly
The Detroit News

St. Joseph — The crowd, several thousand strong, walked past the downtown band shell, the marina, the kids’ museum and the park with a four-tiered water fountain.

They walked along a bluff that gave a breathtaking view of the St. Joseph River.

Year in and year out, the river has seemed to buffer this prosperous lakeside resort in the southwest corner of Michigan from problems.

But on Monday, trouble arrived as a prisoner trying to escape from the Berrien County Courthouse fatally shot two bailiffs and injured two other people before being killed by officers.

On Tuesday, residents filled the parking lot of the courthouse and walked to a memorial for fallen law enforcement officers.

The Rev. Michael Roth, pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, told the crowd such things may happen in big cities like Detroit but are rare in small towns.

“It reminds us how fragile life can be,” he said through a portable loudspeaker. “You never expect it to happen in St. Joseph.”

People in the memorial march weren’t the only ones struggling to understand what had happened a day earlier.

In the quaint downtown, whose brick streets hold art galleries, antique stores and coffee shops, merchants and customers hugged each other. More than a few people teared up.

At Schu’s Grill, customer David Joseph said he felt sad, angry and frustrated.

“There’s too much hatred in the world. It’s scary,” he said.

As St. Joseph residents tried to make sense of Monday’s violence, more information emerged about the prisoner who triggered it, Larry Darnell Gordon.

Gordon, 44, had just appeared in court for a hearing over a misdemeanor domestic violence charge when he wrested a gun away from a sheriff’s deputy. Gordon wounded the deputy and a woman and killed two bailiffs before being shot to death himself.

Court records show Gordon also faced charges of assault, kidnapping, two counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and aggravated domestic violence.

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.

Judge Charles LaSata said the county prosecutor had been seeking to have the domestic violence charge dismissed because of “very serious felony charges” Gordon was facing.

Gordon had previous trouble with the law, according to court records. He had been charged in federal court in Grand Rapids in October 2000 with two counts of unlawful transport of firearms.

Sharon Turek, a Grand Rapids attorney who represented Gordon in the case, said he was sentenced to four or five years in prison after pleading guilty to being a felon in possession of a weapon.

She said she believed he had a criminal history at that time.

Turek said she knew both of the slain bailiffs and said they were tremendous individuals.

“Court security does such a great job that you take what they do for granted,” she said. “We all need to appreciate what these men and women do to protect all of us.”

On Tuesday residents’ thoughts frequently returned to the two bailiffs who were killed — Joe Zangaro and Ron Kienzle.

Both had been police officers. Zangaro, 61, retired from the Michigan State Police while Kienzle, 63, had worked for the Benton Township Police Department, said the sheriff’s office.

They also had been at the courthouse for more than a decade. Zangaro, who was head of security, began in 2004 while Kienzle joined the following year, said the sheriff’s office.

Zangaro, a former commander at the MSP post in Bridgman, loved being a police officer, said friends.

“He was a policeman’s policeman. He loved everything about it,” said longtime friend Matt D’Arcy.

While Zangaro was on the serious side, Kienzle took a more lighthearted approach, said friends.

The former Army veteran liked to make co-workers laugh, they said.

Berrien County Prosecutor Michael Sepic said he knew both Zangaro and Kienzle, first as police officers and then bailiffs.

“They were excellent officers, excellent bailiffs, excellent people,” he said. “We’re proud to have known them.”

‘Theirs, but to do and die’

A makeshift shrine that had sprouted at the courthouse continued to grow Tuesday.

Residents continued to add flowers, American flags and notes besides a Berrien County Sheriff’s patrol car.

After the crowd assembled at the parking lot, organizers held a moment of silence for the victims.

Gary Bruce, the chief judge of Berrien Circuit Court, said he had known Zangaro and Kienzle for 36 years, 18 as an attorney and 18 as a judge.

They were just like everybody else with one difference, he said.

“They had the same hopes, the same dreams, the same concerns,” said Bruce. “But on their side was a pistol. They focused on one thing — our safety.”

As Bruce and others spoke during the memorial, dozens of people could be heard crying.

On a sweltering day, the horde then walked a half-mile to the Berrien County Law Enforcement Memorial.

As they walked, the splendor of the city switched to the sacrifice of its residents.

They passed a flag at half-staff and several memorials to residents who had given their lives in various wars.

Another memorial honored five people who died while fighting a fire that destroyed a local opera house in 1896.

“Theirs, not to reason why,” it read. “Theirs, but to do and die.”

They then reached the law enforcement memorial, which, like most things in town, is quaint and picturesque.

Near the memorial was a small waterfall dropping into a pond surrounded by flowers and trees.

On Tuesday, the memorial’s garden held photos of Zangaro and Kienzle.

State Rep. Al Pscholka, who organized the event, told the crowd his wife, in response to the tragedy, baked cupcakes for police Tuesday.

With his voice cracking, he said people need to start being nicer to each other, and respecting one another.

“I don’t know how we get past this one, but we will,” he said.

‘Hearts shattered’ by senseless violence

Gordon, of Coloma, was attempting to escape while in custody of a deputy, whom he shot, Bailey said.

The injuries to deputy James Atterberry Jr. and the woman who was wounded weren’t life-threatening.

The inmate was handcuffed at the time, with his hands in front of him, Bailey said Tuesday.

The sheriff 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.”

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.

Members of Michigan’s congressional delegation spoke about the tragedy in remarks Tuesday made on the House and Senate floors.

U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, asked his colleagues for prayers on behalf of the victims and their families in his “hometown of St. Joe.”

“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.”

In remarks on the Senate floor, Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, said the courthouse gunfire is another blow to residents of southwest Michigan, following February’s mass shooting that killed six people and wounded two others near Kalamazoo.

“Across Michigan, our hearts have been shattered by senseless violence like this, and I know the grief of my fellow Michiganders because I know this grief in my own heart, as well,” he said. “This is unfortunately not the first tragedy to strike west Michigan this year.”

Jessica Gordon said she and Larry Gordon 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” for criminal charges she would not divulge.

State police records say Gordon was charged in April with the counts of criminal sexual conduct, assault with a dangerous weapon and kidnapping.

“I’m having a hard time believing that it’s true,” Jessica Gordon said.


Staff writers Holly Fourner, Breana Noble and Candice Williams contributed.