It's supposed to be the place where people are brought to justice. But one Michigan courthouse also became the site of tense and deadly standoff involving a dangerous suspect hell-bent on escaping the law. Reed Grinsell has the very latest.
Gunfire in the Berrien County Courthouse in St. Joseph, Michigan: the July 11 shootout scene is all too real.
Hushed and frantic 911 calls pour in. It's a routine inmate transfer that's turned bloody.
Larry Gordon, a dangerous man known to law enforcement, is facing trial for felony charges in Berrien County, Michigan, for holding a 17-year-old girl as his sex slave, all while allegedly offering her methamphetamine and assaulting her with weapons.
In court, Gordon jumps Deputy James Atterberry Jr. and wrestles his gun away. Two bailiffs go down, Joseph Zangaro and Ron Kienzle, first on the scene, first to die.
All over the building, witnesses run for cover. They hide in offices, closets, bathrooms. More gunshots.
Our affiliate WXMI is on the scene as helpless family members rush to the courthouse.
Judge Charles LaSata hears the scuffle for the gun and pushes the panic button.
"Ron [Kienzle] jumped up -- didn't hesitate -- jumped up, ran across the front of my courtroom, headed through that door, you know, getting ready to draw his weapon," said LaSata
Gordon ramps up his attack.
"The shooter was trying to kick in the door to my chambers," said LaSata. "I could hear him kicking the door and shortly thereafter I heard the shots of the other bailiffs arriving and subduing him."
Investigators later find a letter in Gordon's cellphone written to his ex-wife and daughter: "Baby they want to send me away for the rest of my life. I don't deserve that. That's not living. I'm not going to do it."
The inmate was planning to escape, not wanting to face the potential 18- to 62-year sentence.
"I'll be in hiding babe and if you ever have a problem just post it on facebook. I'll come take care of it like superman," Gordon wrote.
Gordon takes hostages and looks for an escape route. He holds his gun to a woman's head.
As she breaks free, officers close in on Gordon, firing a fatal round of shots.
The city of Saint Joseph is mourning the tragic loss of two respected officers. Hundreds attend a vigil to honor both Ron Kienzle and Joe Zangaro.
"Those bailiffs were heroes," said Berrien County Sheriff Paul Bailey. "Along with all the other officers who were in that courtroom. They ran to where the shots were being fired and this could have been a lot worse without them being so brave to go into the gunfire and take this person down.