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Guard, attacker killed in Las Vegas shootout

Benefits case may have fed gunman’s ire

Law enforcement officers surrounded a federal courthouse in Las Vegas following yesterday’s gun battle. Law enforcement officers surrounded a federal courthouse in Las Vegas following yesterday’s gun battle. (Isaac Brekken/ Associated Press)
By Ken Ritter
Associated Press / January 5, 2010

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LAS VEGAS - A man dressed in black walked into a federal building yesterday in downtown Las Vegas and opened fire with a shotgun, killing a court security guard and wounding a US marshal before he was shot to death in a running gun battle.

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. A reporter on the eighth floor of a high-rise within sight of the federal building heard a sustained barrage of gunfire.

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, 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.’’

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

Authorities identified the gunman as Johnny Lee Wicks.

The dead guard was Stanley Cooper, a retired Las Vegas police officer employed by Akal Security, said Jeff Carter, spokesman for the Marshals Service in Washington. Cooper, who was shot in the chest, was a police officer for 26 years and became a federal court security officer in Las Vegas in 1994.

Authorities did not immediately release the name of the wounded marshal.

Officials said Wicks was upset over losing a lawsuit concerning Social Security benefits. He sued the Social Security Administration in 2008, but the case was thrown out and formally closed in September 2009, according to court records.

US Senator John Ensign, a Nevada Republican, told reporters that it appeared the gunman acted alone and the shooting was not a terrorist act. Chief Deputy US Marshal Roxanna Lea Irwin also said authorities believe the shooter acted alone.

The man, dressed in black pants, shirt, and jacket, opened fire in front of a set of security metal detectors just inside the rotunda of the federal building, FBI Special Agent Joseph Dickey said.

“From what witness accounts have said, he walked in with a shotgun underneath his jacket and opened fire when he opened the doors,’’ Dickey said. “Seven officers responded and returned fire.’’

A video posted on YouTube recorded the sound of the running firefight as the man retreated across Las Vegas Boulevard toward another federal building and a historic school.

“I could see guards and everything coming out, and then all of a sudden I just started hearing pop, pop, pop. I mean, just like 30 or 40 shots,’’ said Troy Saccal, a tax services manager who was arriving for work at the time.

Saccal said he thought he saw one guard slump to the ground and another move to help him.

The gunman died moments later in the bushes outside the restored Fifth Street School, where his body remained for several hours. A Las Vegas police spokeswoman said the man had been shot in the head.

John Clark, director of the US Marshals Service in Washington, called the officers heroes. “The brave and immediate actions of these two individuals saved lives by stopping the threat of a reckless and callous gunman,’’ Clark said.

Alina Shell, a lawyer in the federal public defender’s office, said she didn’t see the shooting, but heard it. “There was a lot of gunfire,’’ she said in an e-mail, “and there was no mistaking where it was coming from.’’

Bullet holes marked the entrance of the eight-story modern federal building, which was locked down after the shootout and closed for the day.

After police arrived, paramedics helped two people out and down a ramp to ambulances.

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.