One dead, three wounded in Southeast Texas courthouse shooting

Marilyn Tennissen Mar. 14, 2012, 4:47pm

The area in front of the Jefferson County Courthouse remains blocked off today following a shooting rampage that left one dead this morning.

Jefferson County (Texas) Deputy Chief Zena Stephens, left, and Beaumont Police Chief James Singletary confirm one fatality from the courthouse shooting at a joint press conference this afternoon.

BEAUMONT, Texas (Legal Newsline) - One victim is confirmed dead and three others have been hospitalized after a gunman opened fire Wednesday outside the Jefferson County Courthouse in Beaumont, Texas.

At a joint press conference between the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department and the Beaumont Police Department, officials said the suspected shooter was also taken to a local hospital with a gunshot wound.

Names of victims and the suspect are being withheld at this time pending family notifications.

Deputy Chief Zena Stephens of the sheriff's office said events began with a call of shots fired at the courthouse on Pearl Street at around 11:20 a.m.

Officials believe the suspect had a court appearance this morning, then left the courthouse, retrieved a gun from a truck in the courthouse parking lot and began shooting. It is unclear at this time if the suspect was firing from the truck or if he was on foot, officials said.

Police said people were ducking and hiding behind cars in the parking lot as the gunman fired. One of the victims was shot in the parking lot, while the others were hit directly in front of the courthouse.

Stephens said they do not know at this time if the shooting was totally random or if the suspect was targeting certain victims.

Beaumont Police Chief James Singletary said seven or eight law enforcement officers returned fire as the suspect fled the scene in the truck. The suspect was hit in the gun battle. No officers were wounded.

The suspect's truck was disabled a few blocks from the courthouse at Park and Milam streets and he then ran another block to a business on Neches Street. Once inside, the suspect released a handful of employees, but held another small group of employees as hostages.

Law enforcement personnel were able to speak to the wounded suspect inside the building. Chief Singletary said the suspect was very agitated, and concerned about receiving medical attention. Shortly after he was contacted, the suspect released the remaining hostages and gave up his weapon.

Singletary said the suspect was in custody within 25 to 30 minutes from the time the shootings began.

The suspect was taken by emergency vehicle to a local hospital. His condition is currently described as stable, Chief Singletary said.

Stephens said law enforcement is still working to secure evidence from the crime scene, which covers several city blocks.

She said details about what type of weapon the suspect used would be released at a later time.

Early reports stated that someone had been shot inside the courthouse, but Stephens verified that one of the victims had been shot outside and had run back into the courthouse for protection.

The Jefferson County Courthouse has a relatively new security system that sends all visitors through a metal detector. Singletary said courthouse employees began securing their offices when the shooting started.

Several other agencies are involved in the investigation in addition to the sheriff's department and police, including the FBI; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the Texas Department of Public Safety; the Texas Rangers; and the Jefferson County District Attorney's Office.

More information will be released as it becomes available.

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