‘Our hearts are torn apart’: 2 bailiffs shot and killed at Berrien County Courthouse

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By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

ST. JOSEPH — A Berrien County jail inmate shot and killed two court officers, injured one sheriff’s deputy and a civilian, and tried to take hostages Monday before being killed by two other bailiffs in a Berrien County Courthouse hallway.

The victims were identified by Sheriff Paul Bailey as Joe Zangaro, 61, and Ron Kienzle, 63. Zangaro was head of security at the courthouse. He retired from state police as commander of the Bridgman post and had been employed with the Berrien County Trial Court since May 2004.

Kienzle had been employed with the trial court since April 2005. He retired as a sergeant from the Benton Township Police Department and served in the U.S. Army.

“Together they had over 40 years in law enforcement. They were loving guys,” Bailey said.

The sheriff’s deputy who was shot is James Atterberry Jr., 41. He joined the sheriff’s office in July 2002. At a 9 p.m. press conference, Bailey said Atterberry was shot in the arm, had undergone surgery and was out of intensive care and in stable condition.

The inmate who shot the officers was Larry Darnell Gordon, 44, of Coloma. He was an inmate at the Berrien County jail and was awaiting court appearances on several charges, Bailey said.

Bailey said that after Gordon shot the men he tried briefly to take hostages in the courthouse. Police did not identify the civilian who was shot. But people at a prayer vigil in Benton Harbor on Monday evening identified her as Kenya Ellis Adams.

The shooting happened at about 2:15 p.m. on the third floor of the four-story courthouse building. Bailey said the inmate who was being taken into court shot the bailiffs and deputy in a corridor between a holding cell and a courtroom.

Employees on the third floor were kept at the courthouse Monday to be interviewed by police while other employees were allowed to leave in small groups.

“I’ll try to make it through this. We lost some friends today, so I’m here with a heavy heart,” Bailey said in an afternoon press conference. “…Our hearts are torn apart at the loss of our colleagues and friends.”

Gov. Rick Snyder makes a public statement during a press conference Monday regarding a shooting that took place inside the Berrien County Courthouse. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

Gov. Rick Snyder makes a public statement during a press conference Monday regarding a shooting that took place inside the Berrien County Courthouse. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

At a press conference, Bailey was flanked by police officers from several area departments, Gov. Rick Snyder, state Sen. John Proos, state Rep. Al Pscholka, and local mayors. Press conferences were held in a bank parking lot near the courthouse.

Bailey said Zangaro and Kienzle were longtime law enforcement officers and had both been court bailiffs for more than 10 years. He said deputies and the court bailiffs who work in the courthouse are well-trained.

Bailey said Gordon was being brought into court from a holding cell when a fight ensued and he wrestled a gun away from Deputy Atterberry and shot him, Kienzle and Zangaro. Bailey said it is standard procedure for two people to transport inmates between the jail and courtrooms.

After shooting Atterberry, Zangaro and Kienzle, Gordon ran into a hallway and started shooting, hitting one civilian in the hallway before being shot by a bailiff.

He said police are continuing their investigation and he does not know which bailiff shot Gordon. He said early indications are that the inmate was not handcuffed during the transfer from the holding cell to the courtroom.

“He has been in our jail, and we had no indications that anything of this nature would happen,” Bailey said.

He said whether inmates are handcuffed when brought into court depend on individual situations. He said those procedures will be reviewed once the investigation is complete.

Snyder arrived in St. Joseph late Monday afternoon, moments before a press conference began.

“I am here to offer my support on a terrible day in a wonderful community,” Snyder said. “We will support you in every way possible. I ask all Michiganders for your thoughts and prayers. This is particularly hard for law enforcement. Rally together and support one another. We should all stand together.”

Bailey said he already was overwhelmed with calls of support by late afternoon.

Outside the courthouse

It was a somber scene outside the courthouse and on the surrounding streets, where people waited for word from their loved ones after learning people had been shot. Most declined to talk to the media, as did courthouse employees who were escorted to their cars by police as they were allowed to leave, a few at a time.

“Everybody responded remarkably well,” one courthouse employee who did not want to be identified said. Most kept their heads down, some crying, and declined to talk to the media.

Mike Ramsey was waiting in the parking lot for his wife and 21-year-old daughter when police cars began showing up.

The Benton Harbor resident said he didn’t hear gunshots, but was worried for his family. After several failed calls, Ramsey was asked to vacate the scene by police.

His wife and daughter were on the fourth floor getting documents when the courthouse was put on a lockdown.

“I see all these police piling in and I didn’t know what was going on,” Ramsey said. “I walk over (to the doors) and it’s packed. That’s when they told me to leave the parking lot.”

Ramsey’s wife called him after she was interviewed by police, and told him about the shooting.

“The phone call was so quick,” Ramsey said. “But it took about 45 minutes just to reach my wife. You see ambulances coming out of the building and you don’t know what to think.”

About two hours after the shooting, police let people back into the courthouse’s parking lot to retrieve their vehicles, which were stranded behind police tape.

Bailey said the courthouse will be closed today.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: Staff Writer Julie Swidwa contributed to this story. This article was originally published on July 12, 2016)

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