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Shootout at Las Vegas courthouse kills 2

A deputy U.S. marshal is wounded and a court security officer dies, along with the gunman, identified as Johnny Lee Wicks, a 66-year-old retiree disgruntled over cuts in his Social Security benefits.

January 04, 2010|By Ashley Powers

Reporting from Las Vegas — A 66-year-old Las Vegas retiree, disgruntled over cuts in his Social Security benefits, opened fire this morning in the lobby of the federal courthouse here, killing a court security officer and wounding a deputy U.S. marshal, authorities said.

The gunman, identified as Johnny Lee Wicks, 66, was shot in the head and died on the scene, according to law enforcement sources. The deputy marshal was in stable condition at a local hospital. The names of the marshal and court security officer have not been released, though the security officer was a 65-year-old retired policeman, according to local media outlets.

Wicks was a recent retiree who was suing the U.S. government because his Social Security benefits were apparently denied or reduced, a law enforcement official said. He was living in a Las Vegas-area retirement home.

The shootout began about 8 a.m. at the Lloyd D. George Federal District Courthouse, just south of the aging casinos on Fremont Street.

The gunman, dressed in black and with a shotgun hidden beneath his jacket, charged into the entryway. Before reaching two metal detectors, he opened fire, said Joseph Dickey, a FBI special agent.

Seven officers returned fire, he said, and the gunman darted out of the courthouse. They gave chase and the gunman was killed across the street, near the historic Fifth Street School, a white stucco office building.

A video posted on YouTube captured the sound of 50-plus shots snapping like firecrackers.

"The first shot that I heard was a shotgun blast. I knew it wasn't fireworks," Ray Freres, 59, a sandwich-shop manager, told the Associated Press. He said he was behind the federal 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."

On the building's eighth floor, Ida Gaines, 55, a regional representative for Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), had made coffee and was checking her computer. Most staffers hadn't heard the gunfire and gasped when Reid's scheduler announced: "Somebody's been shot downstairs!"

Told to stay in the office, Gaines peered out the window. "We saw someone lying on the ground that was dead," she said.

The employees were unsure whether the gunman was in the building or if there was more than one. They turned on CNN. Someone pounded on the door. "I didn't know if it was the gunman or not," Gaines said.

Authorities who had arrived ushered the employees out of the building, telling them to leave their purses and cellphones behind. Several hours passed before they could return.

ashley.powers@latimes.com

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