A man walked into a municipal building south of Pittsburgh on Wednesday and shot four people — including a police sergeant — before a police officer fatally shot him outside a courtroom where the gunman was to appear for a hearing in a domestic violence case, the authorities said. Around 2 pm, the gunman walked into the lobby of the Masontown Borough Municipal Centre and began shooting a handgun, said Richard Bower, the district attorney of Fayette County. A police sergeant “engaged” the gunman and was shot, Bower said. The gunman then shot two men and one woman, Bower said.
A police officer then entered the lobby and shot the gunman multiple times, killing him, Bower said.
An official later identified the gunman as Patrick S Dowdell, 61, of Masontown, Pennsylvania.
All four shooting victims were taken to hospitals with what Lt Steven C Dowlin of the Pennsylvania State Police said were nonlife-threatening injuries. Specifically, the police sergeant was said to be in good condition. Three others — a 47-year-old man, a 35-year-old man and a 39-year-old woman — were treated at a hospital in Morgantown, West Virginia, and released.
The municipal building is home to judicial offices, such as that of District Judge Daniel Shimshock. Dowdell had been scheduled to appear in Shimshocks court for a preliminary hearing Wednesday on charges including strangulation, aggravated assault and terroristic threats in connection with a domestic dispute that occurred a few weeks ago, court documents and law enforcement officials said. Bower said the gunman also had a “protection from abuse” order out against him.
Dowlin said neither the judge nor the judges staff members were targeted in the attack, adding that no shots were fired in the judges courtroom.
Authorities deflected questions about the gunmans motive and any connection with those he shot. They also would not discuss the gunmans criminal history.
But they did credit the actions of police officers, saying that 30 to 40 people were milling about the building near the area where the shooting occurred and were fortunate not to have been injured.
Linda Endsley, 56, and her son, Todd Endsley Jr, 29, were in a room waiting for a hearing when Endsley said she heard a gunshot zip through the rooms glass panels.
“It was pandemonium,” she said. “Everybody was pushing up against each other like a stampede.”
To Joyce Royster, of Uniontown, Pennsylvania, who was also in the waiting room, the sound was unmistakable: “Bang, bang, bang.” As gunshots shots continued, she said, she stayed close to the ground, barely breathing.
In the meantime, witnesses said, Endsley forced open a door, Royster bolted for it and then other people followed. The group then headed for a small office and used a chair to block its door, Royster said. It took about 15 minutes for law enforcement officials to give them permission to leave the room, she added.
As the group exited, Endsley said, she saw a woman lying on the floor, bleeding profusely from a gunshot wound. Endsley took off his belt and wrapped it around the victims arm, she said.
Endsley said that the victim was calm and told her that she had a protection from abuse order out on the gunman, and that it was “not the first time he had tried to kill her.”
For her part, Royster said, she was thankful that they had found a place to hide.
“I couldve been another statistic,” she said. “God was with us.”
The shooting took place in the epicentre of Masontown, which is about 50 miles south of Pittsburgh and has a population of about 3,300.
In January, a man opened fire and killed four people at a carwash in Saltlick Township, a rural town in north-eastern Fayette County, according to The Tribune-Review. The gunman, Timothy OBrien Smith, later killed himself, the newspaper reported.
Trooper Robert Broadwater, a state police spokesman, referred to Wednesdays episode as a “mass shooting” and said such events were becoming “far too common.”
“Its getting out of hand,” he said.