Incidentally, the fact that this was on the front page on CNN.com does nothing to disabuse me of the notion that wherever I happen to be living is the center of the universe.
A defendant grabbed the pistol of a courtroom deputy, shot the deputy and fatally shot the judge and a court reporter Friday at a downtown Atlanta courthouse. The suspect then fled into the streets in a carjacked vehicle after killing another deputy outside the courthouse.
The first shootings occurred about 9 a.m. in Judge Rowland W. Barnes' eighth-floor courtroom. Barnes was dead at the scene, attorney and former part-time judge Gary Spencer said. Later, officials said the court reporter also had died.
The courtroom deputy was at Grady Memorial Hospital in critical condition with a gunshot wound to the face but was expected to live, trauma surgeon Jeffrey Salamone said.
A search for the suspect, identified by police as Brian Nichols, 33, was under way in Georgia and the neighboring states of Alabama, Tennessee and the Carolinas. Fulton County Sheriff Myron Freeman said Nichols is considered armed and dangerous.
Warning signs on Atlanta highways told motorists to be on the lookout for a green Honda Accord with Georgia license plates 6584YN.
Witnesses said the suspect grabbed the gun of a courtroom deputy, shot her and then briefly held the courtroom hostage. After a few minutes, the suspect shot and killed Barnes, who was presiding over the suspect's rape trial, and the court clerk.
Sources then said the suspect fled the courtroom, going eight stories down a stairwell to the street, Martin Luther King Boulevard, where he confronted and shot and killed the second sheriff's deputy.
Authorities said the suspect then tried to hijack at least three vehicles, ending up in a multilevel parking structure for Atlanta's Underground tourist area.
A reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution was struck and his car stolen in a parking garage, a few blocks from the Underground. In a story posted on the newspaper's Web site, Don O'Briant said a man pulled up after he had parked his car and asked for directions to a shopping mall.
"Then he pulled a gun and said, 'Give me your keys or I'll kill you,' " O'Briant said.
According to the report, he gave him the keys, but refused the man's order to get in the trunk of his green Honda Accord. "I thought maybe I was going to be killed, but I wasn't going to get in the trunk," he said.
"I turned to run, and that's when he hit me in the head with his gun. I fell down, and I got up and ran into a garbage bin. I got up again and ran."
Another witness told CNN the suspect took his tow truck at gunpoint outside the courthouse and fled the scene.
The gunman "told me to get out of the truck. I told him he can have the truck. And I walked away," Deronte Franklin said.
Atlanta police said they believe the Honda was the last car taken.
Renee Rockwell, a defense attorney, said she was on her way to the courtroom immediately following the shooting, when a deputy grabbed her and pulled her into an elevator. "While we were in the elevator, one of the female deputies started crying and said, 'The defendant took the deputy's gun and held the courtroom hostage and shot the judge.' "
Vickie Warner, a courthouse employee, said she heard "three or four shots and we looked out ... and we saw this guy running across the street, with a gun in his hand, into the Underground parking deck."
Nichols was reportedly facing a retrial for rape and kidnapping in Barnes' courtroom, after a first trial resulted in a hung jury. He is described as being an African-American male, 33 years old, about 6 feet, 1 inch tall and weighing 210 pounds.
James Bailey, who said he was a juror at Nichols' trial, said Nichols' courtroom behavior had made him nervous.
"Every time he looked up, he was staring at you," Bailey said.
Barnes was "extremely highly thought of in the legal community," attorney B.J. Bernstein told CNN. The judge presided over both civil and criminal cases.
"The only thing I can imagine is that someone would have had to have moved very quickly and suddenly to catch one of the deputies off guard in order to remove his weapon," she said.
Some said the shooting was predictable given the security lapses at the courthouse.
"The security in the Fulton County Courthouse, the way they deal with prisoners, is absolutely atrocious," attorney Dennis Scheib told CNN. "I said this was going to happen."
But Fulton County State Court Judge Craig Schwall described security at the courthouse as "phenomenal." Judges have their own private elevator, accessible only by key card, he said. Their chambers are heavily secured, he said, and they and other court officials have their own secure parking garage. "I think that, as public servants, we all have to be mindful of these risks," Schwall said.
Local, state and federal agents were processing the multiple crime scenes, and many downtown streets were blocked off. Gurneys were carried into the courthouse, but had not been carried back out.
Four schools around Atlanta also were locked down as the search for the subject continued, an Atlanta Public Schools spokesman said. Some suburban private schools were also on lockdown. Security was beefed up at the nearby Georgia Dome, where the Southeastern Conference basketball tournament was under way.
That's the guy.
Be safe on your way home, y'all.
EDIT: demetria23 says he's been swapping out cars, so you can ignore the part about the Honda Accord.