A grandfather killed his former daughter-in-law and another woman in a Delaware courthouse before he died in a shootout with officers, a confrontation sparked by a child-custody dispute, police said.
Christine Belford, 39, was shot to death by Thomas Matusiewicz, 68, of Edcouch, Texas, who also killed Belford’s neighbor, Laura Mulford, 47, before they made it through a court security checkpoint, Delaware State Police said in a statement.
Matusiewicz was at the courthouse with his son David Matusiewicz, Belford’s ex-husband. All were there for a custody hearing in which Belford would face David Matusiewicz, state police Sergeant Paul G. Shavack said in an interview. Thomas Matusiewicz died as he exchanged fire with court security officers.
“This is the result of a custody dispute that has lasted in our court system for several years,” Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden said at a press conference yesterday.
David Matusiewicz was being held by police for violating the terms of his federal probation. He served two years in prison for kidnapping his three children in 2007. He had already gone through the security checkpoint when the shooting started, Shavack said.
The court security officers were hurt as they exchanged fire with Thomas Matusiewicz. Investigators were waiting for the results of an autopsy today to determine whether the gunman or the officers fired the fatal shots.
The security officers were slightly wounded as their protective vests stopped the bullets, Shavack said.
Thomas Matusiewicz walked into the courthouse lobby about 8 a.m. as court employees and the public were lining up to pass through metal detectors manned by the state’s Capitol Police.
After he began shooting, targeting the women, Shavack said, the officers fired on him. Police don’t have any indication that David Matusiewicz knew the shooting would take place. The women both lived in Newark, Delaware.
The 12-story New Castle County courthouse, home to Delaware Chancery, Common Pleas, Superior and Family courts, is entered through a wide lobby area with access to a public garage. Visitors must pass through metal detectors.
A dozen armed officers are usually on duty, assisted by roaming court bailiffs and at least one police dog and handler.
Delaware Superior Court Judge Jerome Herlihy said he heard about four shots at 8:10 a.m. followed by a child “screaming wildly.”
“The shots sounded like somebody was dropping a cement block on a metal roof,” Herlihy said in a telephone interview. Security officers escorted judges out of the building at 8:45 a.m. yesterday, the judge said.
The courthouse was closed as police swept the building, letting employees leave as each room was checked. Courts will be closed today and may reopen tomorrow, authorities said.
Thomas Matusiewicz filed bankruptcy in Texas last year, indicating that he sold several guns at yard sale in 2010 earning about $650. The weapons included two pistols, a rifle and a shotgun, according to bankruptcy court records.
David Matusiewicz was on probation after serving time in federal prison for bank fraud and parental kidnapping. Matusiewicz and his mother illegally took the children on a trip through Mexico, Panama and Nicaragua in a motor home before being arrested, according to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Biden is the son of Vice President Joe Biden, who was asked by President Barack Obama earlier this year to head a task force looking for solutions to gun violence.
U.S. House Democrats last week proposed a ban on military-style assault weapons and a 10-round limit on ammunition magazines to try to curb mass shootings, mirroring what Obama proposed in response to the Dec. 14 shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, in which 20 children and six adults were killed.
Obama asked Congress to outlaw the sale of assault weapons, ban high-capacity ammunition magazines and require background checks for all gun buyers.
Police haven’t disclosed whether the Wilmington gunman had a handgun or a rifle.