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Gunman Kills Woman in Lobby of N.Y. Courthouse; Suspect Held

February 25, 1993|JOHN J. GOLDMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — A 22-year-old mother, accompanied by her 10-month-old son, was slain Wednesday by a gunman wearing a bulletproof vest in the lobby of the Bronx County Courthouse--a building made famous by Tom Wolfe's best-selling novel "Bonfire of the Vanities."

Court officers wounded and apprehended a man they identified as the shooter after a short chase. The slain woman's son was unhurt.

About two hours earlier, in the Bronx Criminal Court, a few blocks away, detectives had arrested Elliot Lopez, 18, a suspected drug dealer, and charged him with systematically slaying six people, execution-style, in a South Bronx apartment on Valentine's Day.

Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said detectives were trying to determine whether the shootings were linked, possibly by a drug connection.

In the courthouse shooting, the gunman opened fire on the woman and a man who accompanied her as they walked through a doorway. The woman, identified as Lourdes Casellas, fell mortally wounded.

She was pronounced dead a short time later at Lincoln Medical Center.

Police said a male bystander was wounded in the left arm as the gunman fired numerous shots.

The gunman tried to escape, but was wounded by a court officer who opened fire. Gilbert Ortiz, 23, the suspect, was taken to Harlem Hospital where he was treated for a bullet wound in the left arm.

Guards and shaken spectators called for tighter security at the courthouse, which sits on a hilltop overlooking Yankee Stadium.

In the case that New York tabloids have dubbed the St. Valentine's Day massacre, neighbors told investigators that the building where the slayings occurred was in an area of feuding rival drug gangs.

The police commissioner said that Lopez was apprehended as he arrived in criminal court to appear in a drug case. He was charged with six counts of murder and conspiracy to commit murder. The commissioner said police were seeking at least one other suspect in the Valentine's Day killings.

"The crime was a most heinous one and involved victims from the age of 15 to 49," Kelly told a news conference at the Bronx police station, where Lopez's arrest was announced.

Police discounted robbery as a motive after finding $4,400 in cash and 600 rounds of ammunition in the apartment where the bodies were discovered.

All of the victims were fully clothed and were shot in the forehead or the back of the head.

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