Suspect in Arkansas courthouse shooting dies

AP News
Posted: Sep 14, 2011 12:29 AM
Suspect in Arkansas courthouse shooting dies

A gunman opened fire Tuesday at an Arkansas courthouse, wounding the secretary of the judge he went to see and frightening court workers who scrambled for cover. He died hours later after a struggle with authorities.

The man was later identified as James Ray Palmer, 48, of Kibler, said police Sgt. Daniel Grubbs, whose department was assisting Van Buren police.

Crawford County Coroner Pam Wells said the suspect had died at a Fort Smith hospital around 5:20 p.m., about two hours after the shooting began at the Crawford County Courthouse.

Van Buren Police Lt. Brent Grill said the man went to the courthouse to speak to Arkansas Circuit Judge Gary Cottrell. When Cottrell's receptionist told the suspect that the judge wasn't there, the suspect pulled out a weapon, Grill said.

The judge's secretary tried to flee but was shot in the leg, Grill said. She was taken to an area hospital.

The suspect was armed with two handguns and an assault rifle, Grill said. Witnesses said dozens of gunshots could be heard blocks away.

Elaine Stanfield, the administrative assistant to Judge John Hall, a Crawford County administrator, she first heard what she thought were several loud explosions, but eventually realized were gunshots about 3:30 p.m.

"And then I heard screams and I knew something wasn't right," Stanfield, 60, said from her Alma home Tuesday night.

She said one of the circuit judge's employees ran down the hall to another office and she saw a man dressed in a long coat coming toward her office. After telling other employees in the office to take cover, Stanfield said she dragged her telephone down on the floor with her and call 911.

"About that time, he shot through my door at least five times," Stanfield said. "I had a bottle of alcohol on the corner of my desk because one of the girls had just cut her finger. A bullet went right through the bottle and out the window behind me."

As Stanfield talked to a Van Buren 911 operator, the man turned away and walked outside where he encountere Van Buren police and Crawford County sheriff's deputies.

Stanfield said she heard another 12 to 14 shots before it fell quiet.

"I got up and they had him on the ground out there," she said.

Stanfield, who has worked at the courthouse since 2007, called Tuesday "quite an experience,"

"I kept thinking, `this isn't really happening in Van Buren, Ark., and I'm not being shot at' as bullets were whizzing over my head."

Security was increased at courthouses in Fort Smith and Greenwood, Sebastian County Sheriff Bill Hollenbeck told the Times Record. It wasn't clear yet whether Tuesday's shooter had help or was working with anyone else, he said.

The Crawford County courthouse will be closed Wednesday.

"We're probably looking at getting security guards," Hall told the Times Record. "We have six entrances at the courthouse. Yes, there is going to be a change in security