Sheriff: Suspect in handcuffs during fatal courthouse shooting

Berrien County Sheriff's Office Larry Gordon mugshot 071116
An undated mug shot of Larry Gordon. (Berrien County Sheriff's Office)

ST. JOSEPH, Mich. (WOOD) — Police say the suspect in the Berrien County Courthouse shooting was handcuffed in the front when he shot and killed two bailiffs.

At a press conference Tuesday morning, Berrien County Sheriff Paul Bailey said the inmate, identified as 44-year-old Larry Darnell Gordon, was able to use his hands — despite the handcuffs — to wrestle the gun away from a deputy escorting him to a hearing.

The sheriff said deputy James Atterberry Jr., 41, had just secured the door of the inmate’s holding cell when Gordon began fighting him and disarmed him. Bailey said Gordon shot Atterberry in the arm before shooting and killing Joseph Zangaro, 61, and Ronald Kienzle, 63. Gordon made it to a third floor hallway where he shot a woman identified by family members as Kenya Ellis. She was listed in stable condition Monday evening at a local hospital.

Investigators said Gordon also tried to take hostages before two other bailiffs and several other officers took him down. Gordon was shot and killed while still in handcuffs.

Berrien County bailiffs killed
Undated courtesy photos of Joseph Zangaro (left) and Ronald Kienzle (right) who were killed at the Berrien County Courthouse on July 11, 2016. (Courtesy Berrien County Administration)

The sheriff said all indications are that Gordon was trying to break out of jail. However, the sheriff added that Gordon had never been combative while in custody before and described him as cooperative.

Bailey said when an inmate is taken to court, they are typically handcuffed in the front rather than the back.

“We move people every day, every courtroom moves people from holding cells to the courtroom. Safety is an utmost. This is an unfortunate situation where this inmate who wanted to break out was able to overpower our deputy and get his weapon,” said Bailey.

Bailey said he was initially given wrong information about the suspect not being handcuffed at the time of the shooting. Crime scene techs later told him that the suspect was in fact handcuffed in the front.

The Berrien County Courthouse in St. Joseph will remain closed through Tuesday. Officials will be offering grief counseling at the Administration Center on Main Street for any employee that needs it. The sheriff says there will be extra deputies at the courthouse when it reopens on Wednesday.

Bailey said he’s received some 500 messages of love and support from across the country.

“As we talk about being divided, we’re not divided. We’re strong and we’re going to move forward. We’re Americans and when a tragedy happens which is so sad and we’re hurting, but we stand strong. America will always stand strong,” Bailey said.

Berrien County deputy James Atterberry Jr.
Undated courtesy photo of deputy James Atterberry Jr. who was injured in the Berrien County Courthouse shooting. (Courtesy Berrien County Administration)

Berrien County officials will be offering grief counseling at the Administration Center on Main Street for any employee that needs it.

Deputy Atterberry Jr. was in stable condition Tuesday morning after undergoing surgery.

In a post to Facebook, Rep. Al Pscholka announced plans to honor law enforcement by walking from the Berrien County Courthouse to the Law Enforcement Memorial at Lake Bluff Park in St. Jospeh.  The memorial walk starts at 2 p.m. Tuesday.

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