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Armed with Assault Rifle, Man Shot Ark. Judge’s Secretary at Courthouse, Died After Gun Battle

Posted Sep 13, 2011 7:53 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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Updated: A man reportedly wearing camouflage and armed with two handguns and an assault rifle fired multiple rounds in and around the Crawford County, Ark., courthouse this afternoon, shooting a judge's secretary in the leg as she tried to flee.

The 48-year-old suspect, identified as James Ray Palmer, died about 5:45 p.m. after a confrontation outside the courthouse with law enforcement officers, reports the Associated Press. The shooting began about two hours earlier, when Palmer asked to speak with Arkansas Circuit Judge Gary Cottrell and wounded his secretary, Vickie Jones.

Jones was taken to a hospital and is expected to recover, as is a Van Buren police officer injured during a gun battle with the suspect, Sheriff Ron Brown tells KHBS. He said Palmer, who was wearing an earpiece, fired multiple rounds from an assault rifle into two courthouse offices before he was shot in a gun battle with authorities.

Cottrell apparently was not at the courthouse at the time and court was not in session. He is reportedly being protected by a sheriff's deputy.

The suspect "just kept shooting, just everywhere," said Brenda Watson of the Veterans Services Office, who was at the courthouse as the shooting occurred. "Someone said they could hear him reloading."

Another witness, Elaine Stanfield, who serves as administrative assistant to County Judge John Hall, tells the Times-Record she first heard shots and screaming upstairs from her first-floor office at about 3:30 p.m. Stanfield then pushed the panic button under her desk and called 911.

The Crawford County courthouse, which is located in Van Buren, will be closed tomorrow. Meanwhile, security has been increased at other nearby courthouses as a precaution while officials try to sort out a motive and determine whether anyone else might be involved, the AP article says.

Hall says there will be enhanced security after the Crawford County courthouse reopens on Thursday, likely including guards, reports the Times-Record.

"Yes, there is going to be a change in security," he said. "The days to free access to the oldest courthouse west of the Mississippi is over.”

Updated at 10:17 a.m. Sept. 14 to add the names of the suspect and shooting victim, and the age of the suspect.

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