Thu., 12:58pn: UPDATE Ex-cop opens fire in Wheeling

WHEELING – Former Wheeling police officer Thomas Piccard used an assault rifle and a handgun to pepper Wheeling’s Federal Building with more than 20 rounds Wednesday before being shot and killed by police.

Police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger identified Piccard as the man who opened fire on the Federal Building at 2:43 p.m. Wednesday, striking and shattering multiple windows. A motive for the shooting remains unclear.

Three Federal Building security guards sustained minor, non-gunfire injuries from breaking glass. They were treated at a local hospital and released.

Piccard’s body remained at Wheeling Hospital late Wednesday. Schwertfeger said it would be sent to the state Medical Examiner’s office in Charleston for autopsy.

Schwertfeger said, during a press conference, the 55-year-old Piccard resigned from the police department in July 2000. Schwertfeger said he has not yet reviewed Piccard’s personnel file, and did not know the circumstances of his resignation.

“As to motive, clearly that’s what remains the key investigative component tonight that we continue to work on,” Schwertfeger said. “Part of that includes the decedent’s vehicle, which remains at the crime scene on Chapline Street, as well as the decedent’s residence.”

The Allegheny County, Pa., bomb squad secured Piccard’s trailer in Bridgeport Wednesday night “as a precautionary measure,” said FBI Special Agent Bob Johnson of the Pittsburgh office. An FBI evidence response team also will search that residence, he said.

The circumstances surrounding the shooting remained unclear Wednesday evening, with Johnson noting agents would be reviewing video surveillance from around the Federal Building. Witnesses at the scene report Piccard stood among vehicles in a parking lot on Chapline Street across from the Federal Building when he fired shots from an assault rifle, changing magazines at least once. He then drew a pistol and continued firing at the building.

“The windows themselves, the bullets did penetrate some of them, and there are shards of glass inside the Federal Building,” said U.S. Marshal Gary Gaskins when asked if the glass at the Federal Building was bullet or shatter-proof.

While no motive is known, a number of rounds fired by Piccard struck at least three windows of U.S. Attorney William J. Ihlenfeld’s office on the Federal Building’s second floor.

About 40 percent of Ihlenfeld’s staff has been furloughed due to the federal government shutdown and were not in the building during the shooting.

Ihlenfeld recalled that he heard “what sounded like gunshots and then panic within the office. Members of my staff were crawling on the floor or running office to office telling people to get away from the windows.”

A responding Wheeling police officer and a Federal Building security guard shot and killed Piccard, Schwertfeger said. The Wheeling officer was placed on administrative leave pending a review of the shooting.

Wheeling officers, West Virginia State Police troopers, Ohio County sheriff’s deputies, U.S. Marshals and Wheeling Fire Department personnel surrounded Piccard’s body in the parking lot before he was transported by ambulance to Wheeling Hospital.

Piccard’s weapons were turned over to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms for analysis. Several Wheeling police detectives marked the areas where spent shell casings lay on the ground Wednesday. In addition to Piccard’s vehicle, a sedan, several cars will remain unmoved in the lot as investigators process the scene.

As an Ohio County assistant prosecutor from 1997-2000, Ihlenfeld prosecuted criminal cases investigated by Piccard. Ihlenfeld said he did not observe any alarming behavior in that time and was not aware of any grievances Piccard may have had with him or his office. Ihlenfeld also confirmed that Piccard was not under federal investigation.

The FBI’s Johnson said investigators will interview Wheeling police officers that worked with Piccard. He did not have any details about Piccard’s most recent employment.

“A life was lost in downtown Wheeling today,” Schwertfeger said Wednesday, “and despite the circumstances, our condolences go out to the family members there.”

Sara Ahrens, U.S. Marshals Service judicial security inspector, said a “shelter-in-place” procedure was implemented at the Federal Building from the time the first shots were fired until authorities permitted employees to exit their offices.

The southern end of the Federal Building, which houses a post office, will be open to the public today. Ihlenfeld said many members of his office staff were “shaken” by the shooting, and those employees will be encouraged to stay at home.