Vegas shooter was angry over Social Security cuts

Jan 5 2010 - 12:04am

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(The Associated Press) Two workers hug Monday outside the federal building in Las Vegas, where a gunman shot and killed a court officer.
(The Associated Press) Two workers hug Monday outside the federal building in Las Vegas, where a gunman shot and killed a court officer.

LAS VEGAS -- A 66-year-old retiree upset over losing a lawsuit related to his Social Security benefits opened fire in a Las Vegas federal courthouse lobby Monday morning, killing one person and wounding another in a chaotic shootout.

The gunman, identified by law enforcement sources as Johnny Lee Wicks, 66, died from gunshot wounds after fleeing across the street as court officers returned fire.

Stanley W. Cooper, a 72-year-old court security officer, was killed in the minutes-long gun battle. Cooper, a policeman for more than a quarter-century, had been a federal security officer since 1994, said Jeff Carter, a U.S. Marshals spokesman. A wounded deputy U.S. marshal, 48, was in stable condition at a local hospital. His name was not released.

Law enforcement sources pointed to Wicks' failed federal lawsuit -- an erratic document riddled with spelling and grammatical errors -- as a likely motive.

In 2008, Wicks, who had moved from California to a local retirement home, filed a complaint against a regional Social Security Administration commissioner, alleging his monthly benefits had been reduced by $317 because he was black.

"It's all about race," he wrote in the complaint, although he cited no evidence. "I am no fool."

A lawyer for the Social Security Administration responded in court documents that Wicks' payments had been cut because, as a Nevada resident, he was no longer entitled to a supplement he had received while living in California. The lawyer also said Wicks had not taken advantage of Social Security's system of appeals.

A judge threw out Wicks' case in September.

About 8 a.m. PST Monday, Wicks entered the building where his lawsuit had been heard, the Lloyd D. George Federal Courthouse, just south of the aging casinos on Las Vegas' downtown Fremont Street. Wicks, who had had a stroke several years ago and said in his lawsuit he sometimes struggled to walk, was sheathed in black.

The retiree pulled a shotgun from his jacket and opened fire in the entryway, a few steps from two metal detectors, said Joseph Dickey, a FBI special agent.

Seven court officers returned fire, and the shooter darted out of the building and across Las Vegas Boulevard. He was struck in the head and died in the shrubbery near the historic Fifth Street School, a white stucco office building.

A video posted on YouTube captured the sound of 50-plus shots snapping like firecrackers.

"The first shot that I heard was a shotgun blast. I knew it wasn't fireworks," Ray Freres, 59, a sandwich-shop manager and Vietnam veteran, told the Associated Press. He said he was behind the federal 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."

On the building's eighth floor, Ida Gaines, 55, a regional representative for Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev. -- who, along with Republican Sen. John Ensign, has an office in the building -- had made coffee and was checking her computer. Most staffers hadn't heard the gunfire and gasped when a Reid aide announced: "Somebody's been shot downstairs!"

Told to stay in the office, Gaines peered out the window. "We saw someone lying on the ground that was dead," she said.

The employees were unsure whether the gunman was in the building or if there was more than one. They turned on CNN.

When someone pounded on the door, Gaines said, "I didn't know if it was the gunman or not."

Authorities were at the door. They ushered the employees out of the building, telling them to leave their purses and cell phones behind. When employees returned several hours later, the building's entrance was pocked with bullet holes.

Senator Ensign told reporters the gunfight brought to mind an incident in 1996, when a man, in an apparent suicide attempt, shot himself in the chest outside Reid's Las Vegas office. The man was convicted of stalking.

After the incident, Reid moved his office from south of downtown to a federal building, he has said, because it had security guards.

officer was a 65-year-old retired policeman, according to local media outlets.

Wicks was a recent retiree who was suing the U.S. government because his Social Security benefits had apparently been denied or reduced, a law enforcement official said. Wicks was living in a Las Vegas-area retirement home.

The shootout began about 8 a.m. PST at the Lloyd D. George Federal District Courthouse, just south of the aging casinos on Las Vegas' Fremont Street.

The gunman, dressed in black and with a shotgun hidden beneath his jacket, charged into the entryway. Before reaching two metal detectors, he opened fire, said Joseph Dickey, an FBI special agent.

Seven officers returned fire, he said, and the gunman darted out of the courthouse. They gave chase and the gunman was killed across the street, near the historic Fifth Street School, a white stucco office building.

A video posted on YouTube captured the sound of 50-plus shots snapping like firecrackers.

"The first shot that I heard was a shotgun blast. I knew it wasn't fireworks," said Ray Freres, 59, a sandwich-shop manager. He said he was behind the federal 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."

On the building's eighth floor, Ida Gaines, 55, a regional representative for Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., had made coffee and was checking her computer. Most staffers hadn't heard the gunfire and gasped when Reid's scheduler announced: "Somebody's been shot downstairs!"

Told to stay in the office, Gaines peered out the window. "We saw someone lying on the ground that was dead," she said.

The employees were unsure whether the gunman was in the building or if there was more than one. They turned on CNN. Someone pounded on the door. "I didn't know if it was the gunman or not," Gaines said.

Authorities who had arrived ushered the employees out of the building, telling them to leave their purses and cell phones behind. Several hours passed before they could return.

 

Updated 11:01 p.m.

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Guard, gunman dead in Vegas federal building shots

KEN RITTER

The Associated Press

LAS VEGAS aEU" A gunman opened fire at a federal building in downtown Las Vegas on Monday, killing one court officer and wounding a second before he was shot to death.

The gunfire erupted moments after 8 a.m. at the start of the work week and lasted for several minutes. Shots echoed around tall buildings in the area, more than a mile north of the Las Vegas Strip. An Associated Press reporter on the eighth floor of a high-rise building within sight of the building heard a sustained barrage of gunfire.

A passer-by said he counted at least 40 shots.

aEUoeThe first shot that I heard was a shotgun blast. I knew it wasnaEU(tm)t fireworks,aEU said Ray Freres, 59, a sandwich shop manager and Vietnam veteran who said he was behind the federal court building at the time.

aEUoeI heard an exchange of gunfire. I was watching the street,aEU Freres told the AP. aEUoeIf they were coming my way, I was going the other way.aEU

The U.S. Marshals Service said the victims included a 48-year-old deputy U.S. marshal who was hospitalized and a 65-year-old court security officer who died.

U.S. Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., told reporters it appeared the gunman acted alone and the shooting was not a terrorist act.

aEUoeRight now they have no motive established,aEU Ensign told a news conference outside the building. aEUoeBottom line is, he didnaEU(tm)t get past security.aEU
Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal Roxanna Lea Irwin also said authorities believe the shooter acted alone.

FBI Special Agent Joseph Dickey said the gunman died across the street shortly after the shootout. The manaEU(tm)s identity and motive were not immediately known. His 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.

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

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

Bullet holes marked the entrance of the eight-story modern federal building, which was locked down after the shootout. After police arrived, paramedics helped two people out and down a ramp to ambulances.

A helicopter view showed heavily armed officers in flak jackets scouring the federal buildingaEU(tm)s roof. Shortly afterward, employees in small groups were escorted by armed officers to the auditorium of the Las Vegas Academy, a school three blocks away.

Dickey called the building evacuation aEUoestandard procedureaEU in such an incident.

The gunfire erupted as downtown was busy with office workers and jurors reporting for duty, both at the federal building and the 16-story Regional Justice Center, which houses state and local courts two blocks away.

The state courthouse was evacuated as a precaution and closed for the day, court spokesman Michael Sommermeyer said.

Las Vegas police spokeswoman Barbara Morgan said the shooter had been shot in the head.

aEUoeIt looks like he went in there and just started unloading,aEU Morgan said.

The Lloyd D. George U.S. Courthouse and Federal Building opened in 2002 and is named for a longtime senior federal judge who still hears cases. It has federal courts covering Nevada and offices for federal officials including Ensign and fellow U.S. Sen. Harry Reid. Neither was in the building at the time, authorities said.

The structure was touted as the first federal building built to comply with blast resistance requirements following the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City.
aEU"aEU"aEU"
Associated Press Writers Oskar Garcia in Las Vegas and Devlin Barrett in Washington contributed to this report.

Updated 1:50 p.m.

2 guards shot in Las Vegas federal building

LAS VEGAS -- At least two U.S. marshals were wounded Monday when a gunman opened fire in the lobby of a federal building in downtown Las Vegas, and the gunman was shot and apprehended at a building across the street, authorities said.

"We have two marshals down and a suspect in custody," Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal Roxanna Lea Irwin said after the shooting ended at about 8 a.m.

Police and federal agents swarmed the multi-story building, and paramedics wheeled at least two people out and down a ramp to ambulances. There was no immediate word on the identity of the wounded shooter.

Las Vegas police spokeswoman Barbara Morgan said the shooter had been shot in the head and apprehended near the federal building.

"It looks like he went in there and just started unloading, we don't know," Morgan said.

The multi-story building houses federal courts and offices for federal officials including U.S. Sens. Harry Reid and John Ensign.

Irwin said she saw shotgun casings on the floor of the lobby.

 

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