Sheriff on Berrien County Courthouse shooting: ‘Our hearts are torn apart’

ST. JOSEPH, Mich. (WOOD) — The Berrien County Courthouse will remain closed through Tuesday after two bailiffs were shot and killed during an inmate transfer Monday.

Sheriff Paul Bailey identified the court officers as Joseph Zangaro, 61, and Ronald Kienzle, 63. Zangaro was the head of courthouse security and had been with the Berrien County trial court since May 2004, according the the sheriff’s office. He previously retired as commander of the Michigan State Police Bridgman post.

Undated courtesy photos of Joseph Zangaro (left) and Ronald Kienzle (right) were killed at the Berrien County courthouse July 11, 2016. (WNDU)
Undated courtesy photos of Joseph Zangaro (left) and Ronald Kienzle (right) were killed at the Berrien County courthouse July 11, 2016. (WNDU)

Ron Kienzle worked for the Berrien County trial court since April 2005. He previously worked as a sergeant from the Benton Charter Township Police Department after serving in the United States Army.

“Our hearts are torn apart. They were our friends, they were my colleagues. I’ve known them for over 30 years.  So it’s a sad day, ” a visibly emotional Sheriff Paul Bailey said during a 6:15 p.m. news conference updating the investigation.

Undated courtesy photo of Berrien County deputy James Atterberry Jr.
Undated courtesy photo of Berrien County deputy James Atterberry Jr.

Bailey said deputy James Atterberry Jr., 41, was shot in the arm.  He underwent surgery and was in stable condition at a local hospital Monday night.

A woman was also injured by gunfire. She was listed in stable condition Monday evening at a local hospital.

Bailey identified the suspect as 44-year-old Larry Darnell Gordon of Coloma, who was in custody on several felony charges.

TRANSFER GONE WRONG

The shooting happened around 2:15 p.m. at the courthouse on Port Street in downtown St. Joseph, after Gordon got into a fight with a deputy escorting him to a hearing, the sheriff said. He said the deputy had just secured the door of his holding cell when Gordon began fighting him and disarmed him. Bailey said the inmate wounded the deputy before shooting and killing Zangaro and Kienzle.  Gordon made it to a third-floor hallway where he shot the woman.

Investigators said Gordon also tried to take hostages before two other bailiffs and several other officers took him down.  Gordon was shot and killed.

The sheriff said all indications are that Gordon was trying to break out of jail.

Bailey said as soon as Michigan State Police are finished processing the scene, the victims’ bodies will be removed from the courthouse and taken to Grand Rapids for autopsies.

‘A TERRIBLE DAY IN A WONDERFUL COMMUNITY’

Gov. Rick Snyder visited Berrien County Monday evening to address the shooting.

He called it “a terrible day in a wonderful community” and asked for prayers from all Michiganders.

“This is terrible and we need to be supportive of law enforcement.  We need to support the families that have lost someone,” Snyder said.

Bailey said Michigan State Police were interviewing courthouse employees who were on the third floor during the incident. Counselors will be on hand to help those who are grieving, he said.

‘WE WILL MOVE FORWARD’

The sheriff said he’s been overwhelmed with supportive calls and texts.

“We need prayers and the families need your prayers especially.  And we will move forward,” Bailey added.

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