A gun battle at the New Castle County Courthouse on Monday morning in Wilmington, Del., left three people dead, including the shooter, and two Capitol Police officers injured. Although law enforcement officials declined to identify the shooter, Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden told the press that the incident resulted from a bitter custody battle in the Delaware Family Court.
"This was not a random act of violence," Biden told the media at a press conference Monday. "This was the result of a custody dispute that has lasted in our court system for a number of years."
Although the shooter has yet to be identified by law enforcement officials, several news agencies have identified the shooter as Thomas Matusiewicz and one of the victims as Christine Belford. According to news reports, Belford was involved in a bitter custody battle with Matusiewicz’s son, David T. Matusiewicz.
As of press time, the second victim had not yet been identified by either law enforcement or other news agencies.
Biden told the press that victims will be identified pending the conclusion of a positive identification by the Office of the Medical Examiner and notification of the victim’s next of kin.
Sergeant Paul Shavack, the director of information for the Delaware State Police, declined to identify the shooter during a press conference, which occurred Monday in Wilmington. Shavack only identified the shooter as a white male between 50 to 60 years old.
According to law enforcement sources, a gunman entered the public lobby, which is open and is located in the area before individuals are required to go through security metal detectors. It is not known how many shots he fired, but Capitol Police returned fire. It is not known if the shooter was killed by the police officers or took his own life.
The two police officers sustained injuries during the shootout, but Shavack said the officers were shot in their protective vests and the injuries are not life-threatening. They were treated and released from the hospital on the same day and have already received phone calls from Delaware Governor Jack Markell.
"Fortunately, their protective vests saved them," he said.
Biden praised the Capitol Police officers in a released statement.
"Today’s tragic attack was not a random act of violence, but rather the result of a longstanding child custody dispute that has lasted in the Delaware courts for several years. Thanks to the bravery of the Capitol Police officers who responded, and were wounded in the process, a greater tragedy was averted. Our hearts and prayers go out to the victims of this crime and their families."
Chick Chinski of Middletown, Del., told Legal sibling publication Delaware Law Weekly that he was in the courtroom for jury duty and saw the shooter. He spoke with DLW on the street outside the courthouse.
"He was 6’2" or 6’4", gray hair and kind of middle-aged," Chinski said. He also described the shooter as "middle-class" and said he thought the women who were killed were the shooter’s intended target because the first thing the shooter did was fire at them.
"When he came in the door that’s exactly what he did," Chinski said.
Chinski said he was in a line to go through security when the shooting happened and he was standing 50 to 60 feet away from the gunman. He said the shooter possessed one handgun and was silent before he began shooting.
A Delaware Department of Justice spokesman said Monday evening that the courthouse would remain closed today, and officials were expecting to reopen the courthouse Wednesday. The closure is expected to have no impact on the other courthouses in Delaware.
Law enforcement officials said the building is still a crime scene and being investigated by the Delaware State Police, Federal Bureau of Investigation, University of Delaware Police, Wilmington Police Department, the New Castle County Police Department, City of Newport Police, Secret Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The court system is offering counseling and assistance to any employee, juror or other witness to Monday’s shooting. Several of the courthouse employees were sequestered as of noon Monday, but were released by 3 p.m., according to Shavack.
In an email to DLW, Delaware Supreme Court Chief Justice Myron T. Steele said that the court will look into the courthouse’s security procedures and see if they can be tightened to prevent such incidents in the future.
"I pray for the police officers involved and their families," he said. "My hope is that all our employees are locked down and safe and that the results of a DSP investigation will allow us to improve security going forward. Right now the focus is on the safety of our employees."
Markell is currently on a trade mission to India, but announced that he will cut the trip short and return to Delaware immediately. However, in a press advisory, Markell administration officials said specifics of his return have yet to be worked out.
Markell issued a statement expressing sympathy for the victims and praising the efforts of the Capitol Police.
"While this shooting is notable for the fact that it took place inside a state courthouse, there are some aspects of this incident that are, unfortunately, all too common," Markell said. "I am saddened that two more brave members of our law enforcement community have been injured in the line of duty. I am also saddened that this appears to be another example of a domestic situation that turned deadly."