Two women died after a gunman opened fire in the New Castle County, Del., Courthouse. Two police officers are wounded, and the gunman is dead.(Photo: The (Wilmington, Del.) News Journal)
WILMINGTON, Del. - A former optometrist who spent time in federal prison for bank fraud and kidnapping his three daughters likely is the gunman who opened fire Monday at the New Castle County Courthouse, killing two women, numerous law-enforcement and legal authorities say.
Police declared the gunman dead at the scene.
David T. Matusiewicz, 45, kidnapped his three young daughters in August 2007 amid a custody dispute with ex-wife Christine Belford. He then took the girls on an 18-month odyssey to Panama, Costa Rica, Mexico and Nicaragua.
In the incident that began around 8 a.m. EST Monday, two Capitol Police officers also were shot when guards stopped the gunman at a checkpoint inside the front door before he was to pass through metal detectors, said Sgt. Paul Shavack of the Delaware State Police. The wounded officers, ages 50 and 42, have injuries not considered life threatening because their bulletproof vests stopped the bullets.
Officers exchanged gunfire with the shooter inside the courthouse lobby, Shavack said. Police have not released the identity of the gunman and are trying to determine the identities of the victims.
Law enforcement and legal sources identified one of the dead as Belford.
Police are going through the courthouse room by room to make sure no other problems exist and have allowed some people in the building to leave, Shavack said.
It was unclear whether Capitol Police killed the shooter or he took his own life, Shavack said.
After authorities in March 2009 discovered Matusiewicz, along with his mother living with his daughters - then ages ages, 4, 6, and 7 - living in a dirty and cramped trailer in Nicaragua, he was sentenced to four years for kidnapping and bank fraud. The bank fraud conviction stemmed from forging Belford's name to get a $249,000 home equity loan on their home.
While Matusiewicz was in prison, he continued trying to get joint custody of his daughters, but his parental rights were terminated. He was released from prison to a halfway house in April. About two months later, he was released to home confinement for a period that ended Sept. 5.
Belford frequently contacted The News Journal to report how she and the girls were doing and mentioned an upcoming mediation hearing with Matusiewicz in a December email. It could not immediately be learned whether Matusiewicz or Belford had a court hearing Monday.
Jose Beltran, a Court of Common Pleas worker, was walking into the courthouse lobby on his way to work Monday when he heard shots being fired.
"I saw two shots," he said. "I saw people going on the ground, so I just made a U-turn and ran out of the building."
Ralph Hilton got a call Monday morning from his sister, Victoria Warren, who was at the courthouse for jury duty.
"They were shooting. They were shooting," is what Hilton heard his sister say.
"She sounded upset," he said.
Hilton said his sister called from a room in which she hiding.
Because people are not allowed to take their cell phones in for jury duty, she was calling him from a land line. But when the phone went dead, he drove from his office and waited outside in the rain to hear from her.
Ferris Wharton, a public defender and former chief deputy attorney general, said an employee in his office reported saw bullet holes in the window by the revolving door of courthouse. Shell casings littered the ground.
"I don't know what to say,'' said Wharton, who has worked in the Wilmington courthouses for three decades. "I've never heard of anything like this happening in Delaware. It's a wild situation.''
Sandra Autman, deputy New Castle County court clerk, said she and several other "hysterical staff" had been holed up in their mezzanine office, one level below the lobby. Employees heard at least five shots.
Dozens of police cars are in the area, and streets are cordoned off for several blocks around the courthouse.
Wilmington Police Chief Christine Dunning is attending a roundtable on gun violence with Vice President Joe Biden and other law enforcement officials in Philadelphia. She declined comment and deferred to officials on the scene here.
"It sort of emphasizes what the vice president is trying to do with gun legislation, to try to make it safer for our communities," she said. "This is just not an urban city problem. This is a national, wide problem."
Damian Giletto and Cris Barrish, The (Wilmington, Del.) News Journal