A judge presiding over a rape trial, his court reporter and a sheriff's deputy were shot to death Friday at the Fulton County Courthouse, authorities said. Another deputy was critically wounded and the suspect, the defendant at the trial, remained at large hours later.
Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor confirmed that Superior Court Judge Rowland Barnes and his court reporter were killed. He gave no other details in announcing the deaths in the state Senate. A deputy who was confronted outside the courthouse was shot, and died later at a hospital, authorities said.
Authorities were searching for a green Honda Accord that was stolen from a newspaper reporter who was pistol-whipped in a parking garage.
Fulton County Sheriff's Lt. Clarence Huber identified the suspect as 33-year-old Brian Nichols, who was on trial on rape and other charges stemming from an incident in August.
"Mr. Nichols is considered armed and extremely dangerous and should not be approached. ... We are not going to rest until we find him," Sheriff Myron Freeman said. Authorities said he may have fled the state.
The suspect got the gun by overpowering a sheriff's deputy while he was being escorted within the courthouse, Assistant Police Chief Alan Dreher said. He then went to the courtroom, held about a dozen people there at bay for a short time and then shot and killed the judge and court reporter, he said.
The deputy who died was shot outside the courthouse as the suspect fled.
"We are working very diligently to bring the suspect to justice," Dreher said at a mid-afternoon briefing. Details are still being sorted out; the injured deputy was under sedation, he said. Doctors had said she was wounded in the head.
The people in the courtroom were there for routine civil matters; Nichols was being brought there for the planned resumption of his trial, Dreher said.
"We heard some noise. It sounded like three or four shots. At the time, we thought it was just an engine backfiring," said Chuck Cole, a civil defense attorney who was in an adjoining parking deck when he heard gunfire at around 9:10 a.m.
The sheriff's deputy shot outside the building died at Grady Hospital of an abdominal wound and the other was in critical condition but expected to survive, the hospital said.
"I saw one person on the street that they were performing CPR on," said court reporter Amy McKee.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Don O'Briant, a features reporter for the paper, was beaten by the suspect and carjacked outside the courthouse. O'Briant said in a live interview Friday afternoon that the suspect put a gun to his head and wanted him to get into the car's trunk; he refused and the suspect took off in his car.
All the judges in the building were locked in their chambers. The courthouse and other buildings in downtown Atlanta were on lockdown. Schools around the area were also put on lockdown.
Traffic in the blocks surrounding the courthouse was backed up as police cruisers flooded the area.
James Bailey, a juror at Nichols' trial, said the jury was not in the courtroom at the time of the shooting. Bailey said Nichols had made him and other jurors nervous. "Every time he looked up, he was staring at you," Bailey said. He said Barnes was the presiding judge.
Barnes was named to the Fulton County Superior Court bench in 1998.
Among cases he handled was the fatal 2003 car wreck by hockey star Dany Heatley that killed 25-year-old teammate Dan Snyder. Heatley pleaded guilty and was sentenced Feb. 4 to three years on probation and ordered to give 150 speeches about the dangers of speeding.
This shooting in Atlanta comes just days before Minneapolis installs metal detectors in their court building. Deputies will be assisting at those detectors.
Hennepin County Sheriff Pat McGowan says in the event of an Atlanta style attack — where authorities say the suspect seized a gun from an officer while already in the court house — his officers are wearing secure holsters and have been trained in weapon retention tactics.
Meanwhile, Hennepin County Judge Kevin Burke does not see the need for a panic response, "I think the fact that on Monday we're going to start the security weapons screening is a very helpful addition."
By Harry Weber, Associated Press Writer
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)