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Courthouse gunman upset over legal case

Officer dies in federal courthouse shooting; suspect dies in shootout

Federal Courthouse Shooting

Sam Morris

Law enforcement officers fill the streets outside the Lloyd D. George Federal Courthouse Monday, January 4, 2010 after a shooting that left a court security officer dead and another seriously wounded.

Updated Monday, Jan. 4, 2010 | 9:40 p.m.

Neighbors of Gunman React

Neighbors of Johnny Lee Wicks, 66, are shocked after the lone gunman opened fire in the Lloyd D. George Federal Courthouse Monday morning. Wicks lived at the Sunrise Senior Village complex at 571 N. 30th St., where a fire broke out about three hours before the shooting.

Federal Courthouse Shooting

A lone gunman walked into the Lloyd D. George Federal Courthouse in downtown Las Vegas and opened fire, killing a security officer.

Courthouse Shooting

Law enforcement officers fill the streets outside the Lloyd D. George Federal Courthouse Monday, January 4, 2010 after a shooting that left a court security officer dead and another seriously wounded. Launch slideshow »

Raw YouTube video of shooting

News conference on shooting

Federal building shooting

A man upset over losing a lawsuit regarding his Social Security benefits walked into the Lloyd D. George Federal Courthouse in downtown Las Vegas on Monday morning, pulled a shotgun from beneath his jacket and opened fire, killing a court security officer.

Two officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to the Associated Press because they were not authorized to discuss the case, say Johnny Lee Wicks is the man who opened fire and was shot dead in a gunfight with deputy U.S. marshals. Officials say the early evidence points to the man's anger over his benefits case as the motive for the shooting.

Court records show Wicks, 66, had sued the Social Security Administration in 2008, but the case was thrown out and formally closed in September 2009. (Related story: Shooting ends gunman’s two-year battle over benefits)

FBI Special Agent Joseph Dickey of the Las Vegas field office said investigators believe the gunman was acting alone when he fatally shot the officer and wounded a deputy U.S. marshal. Dickey said the shooting, which occurred about 8:05 a.m. at the courthouse at 333 Las Vegas Blvd. South, didn't appear to be an act of terrorism.

Authorities said Wicks was wearing black pants, a black shirt and a black jacket with a shotgun concealed in his jacket. As he walked into the courthouse, he opened fire.

Seven officers, including courthouse security personnel and U.S. marshals, returned fire and followed Wicks as he ran outside the building. He was shot and killed across the street.

“At this point we believe it was a lone gunman in a criminal act, not a terrorist act," Dickey said. "We are conducting an investigation to follow-up on this to determine why this person did what he did today.”

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder identified the slain officer as 72-year-old Stanley Cooper, a retired Metro Police officer employed by Akal Security. Cooper became a federal court security officer in Las Vegas in 1994.

"The shooting in Las Vegas this morning is a tragic reminder of the risks taken by law enforcement officers every day to keep us safe," Holder said in a Monday statement. "These men and women put their lives on the line to protect judges, witnesses, and others in the federal court system, and there is no doubt that the actions of these brave public servants saved innocent lives today."

Wicks' body remained for several hours in front of the restored historic Fifth Street School, a sprawling white stucco campus that dates to 1936 and was recently renovated.

The shooting occurred in the building's lobby and the gunman never entered the secure area of the courthouse, Dickey said.

Investigators were reviewing surveillance video of the incident. Early witness statements indicated there might have been more than one gunman, but Dickey said the FBI had determined the man acted alone.

A ceremonial procession led by a Metro Police motorcycle officer left UMC at about 11:35 a.m. Monday and arrived at the Clark County Coroner's Office.

Authorities said the injured deputy marshal was in stable condition after surgery. His name hasn't been released.

Metro Police spokesman Ramon Denby said authorities conducted a search and cleared the federal building after the shooting. A suspicious vehicle on the east side of the courthouse was also cleared and determined not to be a threat.

Wicks lived at the Sunrise Senior Village complex at 571 N. 30th St., which is near North Mohave and East Bonanza roads. Las Vegas Fire & Rescue had responded less than three hours before the shooting to Wicks' apartment on the report of a fire in a bedroom. The fire prompted the evacuation of nearby apartments because of smoke, but no one was injured, firefighters said. (Related story: Neighbors’ run-ins with gunman bring mixed reactions)

The U.S. Marshals, FBI and Metro Police are conducting a joint investigation into the shooting. Las Vegas Boulevard was closed in both directions as authorities swarmed the scene.

EZ Pawn and Jewelry employee John Moore said he was helping a customer when he heard about 15 gunshots. He said he saw people running from the building in a panic.

Resident Barbara Pratt said she was at Seventh Street and Carson Avenue when she heard the shots.

"I called 311 and the lady said there had been a shootout," she said. "I was going to go to the bank and Social Security office this morning but something told me to take care of something else," she said. "It's a blessing because I could have been an innocent victim."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid issued a statement Monday morning saying his thoughts are with the shooting victims and their families.

In another statement, Sen. John Ensign said, "they were protecting the public and those working within the federal courthouse, including members of my staff. Unfortunately, today’s events were unlike any other."

Click to enlarge photo

Las Vegas Boulevard is seen Monday, January 4, 2010 after a shooting at the Lloyd D. George Federal Courthouse that left a court security officer dead and another seriously wounded.

The building houses federal courts and offices for officials including Reid and Ensign.

"Bottom line is, he didn't get past security," Ensign told a news conference outside the building."

A passerby said he counted at least 40 shots.

"The first shot that I heard was a shotgun blast. I knew it wasn't fireworks," said Ray Freres, 59, a sandwich shop manager and Vietnam veteran who said he was behind the federal court building at the time.

"I heard an exchange of gunfire. I was watching the street," Freres said. "If they were coming my way, I was going the other way."

John Clark, director of the Marshals Service in Washington, did not immediately identify the officers, but called them heroes.

"The brave and immediate actions of these two individuals saved lives by stopping the threat of a reckless and callous gunman," Clark said in a statement.

The shooting prompted closures and cancellations throughout the downtown area.

The Regional Justice Center in downtown Las Vegas was closed all day after the shooting. All court services were canceled and Clark County Eighth Judicial District Court, Las Vegas Justice Court and Las Vegas Municipal Court were closed.

Among the cancellations caused by the shooting was Environment Nevada's event honoring Rep. Dina Titus and Shelley Berkley.

The event, meant to highlight the environmental voting records of the congresswomen, was scheduled for 11 a.m. Monday at the Fifth Street School, which is near the courthouse.

The event was originally planned for the terrace of the federal building, but the permit paperwork was extensive and when the Fifth Street School's courtyard became available for the same day and time, the plan was changed.

Click to enlarge photo

An FBI agent puts his rifle away after a shooting at the Lloyd D. George Federal Courthouse Monday, January 4, 2010 that left a court security officer dead and another seriously wounded.

Environment Nevada spokesman Pete Dronkers said he was on his way to the school at about 8:50 a.m. to set up for the event when he saw a swarm of helicopters overhead.

"I thought someone had robbed the bank again," he said, referring to the robbery of downtown branch of Nevada State Bank last week. "The entire area was on lock down."

After seeing the story about the shooting on the Sun's Web site, the organization decided to cancel the event, he said.

"This event took a lot of time to organize, it was our first big event," Dronkers said. "A lot of work went into this and it got completely shut down. But compared to the loss of life today, our inconvenience is nothing."

He said downtown was in chaos all morning. Helicopters could still be seen overhead by 11:30 a.m. After early rumors that one assailant was still on the loose, his office and others in the downtown area went into lock down for much of the morning.

The organization is now trying to reschedule the event, but is considering a location outside downtown.

"Unfortunately we couldn't do it this morning," Dronkers said. "With the bank robbery and now this, I'm tempted to find some obscure place in the suburbs."

Las Vegas Academy, the Clark County School District’s magnet high school for the arts and international studies at 315 S. 7th St., was locked down in the wake of the shootings. School District officials say no other campuses had been on lock down.

During lockdowns, students are required to stay in their classrooms and no one is allowed to enter the campus. The academy has about 1,600 students.

Sun reporter Emily Richmond and the Associated Press contributed to this story.

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