More info on the Las Vegas Courthouse Shooting


From the late edition of the R-J

Brian Christensen noticed nothing unusual as he entered the Lloyd George U.S. Courthouse shortly after 8 a.m. Monday.

Christensen, a law clerk for Chief U.S. District Judge Roger Hunt, passed through the security checkpoint and took one or two more steps before hearing a loud blast.

 “I thought maybe it was a bomb,” he said today.

The blast was followed by two more sounds, which he then recognized as gunshots.

“I just instinctively ran toward the cafe,” Christensen said. “I knew it was really bad, whatever it was.”

While running, the 31-year-old law clerk felt pain in his hand and noticed it was bleeding. He later found wounds on the crown of his head and his back. He believes pellets from the gunman’s shotgun grazed him as he fled the scene.

Nick Driscoll, owner of the Order in the Court Cafe, and his manager, Robin Gulli, had entered the building as it opened at 7 a.m.

They cooked bacon and brewed coffee. They were soon joined by cafe employee Cindi Click.

The restaurant, on the first floor of the courthouse, opened at 7:30 a.m. but had seen no customers before workers heard two shots ring out.

Everyone froze momentarily, and Driscoll quickly recognized the sounds as gunshots. After a brief pause, the shooting continued.

As they began to take cover, others stumbled into the cafe. One of them was Christensen. Another was Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathleen Bliss, who recently prosecuted members of the violent Aryan Warriors prison gang.

Several people locked themselves in the cafe’s employee bathroom.

“We felt like sitting ducks,” Driscoll said.

When the shooting ended, Driscoll stepped out into the lobby and saw court security officer Stan Cooper, 72, lying on the floor. Driscoll went to him, hoping to perform CPR.

“You could see that he had been shot in the chest and neck area,” the cafe owner said.

Driscoll said Cooper’s eyes were half open, and he had lost a large amount of blood.

“I could see that there was no reviving him,” Driscoll said.

Driscoll then noticed Denise Saavedra, a court recorder, and another woman sitting on the floor nearby and ushered them to his cafe. After talking to Saavedra about the incident, Driscoll credits court security officer Jack Eklund with saving the young woman’s life.

“He pushed her down,” the cafe owner said. “He got her out of the way.”

Christensen said Saavedra passed through the security checkpoint moments before he did.

Three deputy marshals and four security officers fired 81 shots at the gunman, Johnny Lee Wicks, who fired five shots. The gunbattle ended across the street outside the Historic Fifth Street School after Wicks, 66, was shot in the head.

Deputy U.S. Marshal Richard “Joe” Gardner, 48, was shot in the arm. He has been employed by the U.S. Marshals Service for 24 years and has worked in Las Vegas for 16 years. Gardner has been released from the hospital and is recovering at home.

Driscoll said he considers all those involved in the shootout “heroes.” He believes they stopped Wicks from proceeding through the lobby to his cafe.

“We were the next ones, for sure,” Driscoll said.

He said the attack brought back memories of his father’s death in 1975. He was 8 on the morning his father was gunned down in front of their home in Boston.

“You never get over it,” he said.

Driscoll, 42, said the courthouse shooting has brought everyone in the building closer together.

“I don’t want people to forget this, because a really good person did lose his life,” he added.

Driscoll said Cooper, who had a passion for horses, is responsible for the blue horseshoe hanging over his office door. Gulli is a Colts fans, and Driscoll was supporting the Patriots when the two football teams squared off recently. Cooper contributed the horseshoe, a Colts symbol, which Gulli and Eklund hung above the office door as a pre-game prank.

“I’m glad we’ve got it up there now, because I’ll never take it down ever,” Driscoll said.


From the late edition of the R-J

Johnny Lee Wicks’ violent streak showed itself long before he walked into the federal courthouse in Las Vegas on Monday and opened fire with a shotgun.

The 66-year-old, who was shot dead after a running gun fight with authorities, served time in prison three decades ago for killing his brother with a shotgun in Memphis, Tenn.

  It was during those years behind bars that the seed of Wicks’ distaste for the government was planted, said a former friend and roommate who knew Wicks in the 1990s.

Calvin Jones, 45, said Wicks sometimes referenced his stay at a Memphis prison in the 1970s.

“Remember, at that time minorities in Memphis had a belief system built around the government being biased,” Jones said today. “That’s where that came in. He felt as though he was being violated by the government.”

Wicks’ anti-government beliefs and violent manner converged Monday, four months after losing his federal lawsuit seeking to reinstate some disability benefits that were cut when he moved from California to Las Vegas.

“There is no stronger reminder that the world has changed than when a man wearing a long, black trench coat walks into a federal courthouse armed with a shotgun and opens fire,” Sheriff Doug Gillespie said at a news conference today outside the courthouse. “That man, John Wicks, was angry at his government over a dispute and decided he would settle his disagreement by killing.”

Wicks torched his apartment about 5 a.m. Monday and set out walking the roughly three miles to the Lloyd George U.S. Courthouse with a Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun hidden under his trench coat, authorities said.

Wicks walked through the courthouse doors about 8 a.m. and fired three blasts, killing court security officer Stan Cooper, a 72-year-old retired Las Vegas police officer. Security officers and deputy U.S. marshals returned fire, forcing Wicks to retreat outside. The gunfire continued as Wicks ran across Las Vegas Boulevard.

At one point, Wicks spun around and fired the last two rounds in his shotgun at his pursuers, hitting a deputy U.S. marshal in the arm, authorities said.

The gunbattle ended across the street in a plant bed beside the Historic Fifth Street School when Wicks was shot in the head. He had fired five shots and had more ammunition, investigators said.

Three deputy marshals and four security officers had fired 81 shots at Wicks, who was hit in the head and stomach. Cooper fired one shot, authorities said.

Early today, an orange painted oval marked the spot where Wicks died. On the building behind that spot, at least 33 bullet holes riddled the wall and pane-glass windows.

Across the street at the courthouse, the U.S. flag was at half-staff and authorities wore black bands over their badges as the building opened as usual. A window beside the front doors was boarded up, and inside the lobby a collection of flower bouquets leaned against a wall.

Two uniformed Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers stood nearby — an extra show of security.

The officers who fired their weapons were placed on paid administrative leave pending the investigation. U.S. Marshal Gary Orton said the wounded deputy had been released from the hospital, but his name would be withheld until he recovered.

Wicks had an extensive criminal history in Tennessee and California, including sexual assault, domestic battery and murder, FBI Special Agent In Charge Kevin Favreau said.

Wicks also had an “overwhelming anger toward the United States government,” which fueled the attack, Favreau said.

In the Memphis case, Wicks was charged with killing his brother with a 12-gauge shotgun during an argument in March 1974. The argument centered on whether Wicks’ motorcycle could outrun his brother’s car, according to The Commercial Appeal newspaper in Memphis.

Wicks pleaded self-defense, saying his brother was coming after him, but police never found a weapon near the body, the paper reported.

He was charged with first-degree murder, but a jury convicted him of second-degree murder in 1975.

He received a 55-year prison sentence, which was reduced to 12 to 15 years after an appeal, according to the Tennessee Department of Corrections. Wicks was paroled in 1981.

Jones befriended Wicks when they lived in Sacramento, Calif., in the mid-1990s, he said.

Now a Pahrump resident, Jones described Wicks, then in his 50s, as a loner who was extremely anti-government, despite getting his only income from the government disability benefits he received.

“He had a bad leg that acted up on him,” Jones said. “Sometimes he walked with a cane.”

Jones said that, despite the disability, Wicks was obsessed with physical fitness. The two were workout partners before they became friends, he said. Jones said he wasn’t sure why Wicks didn’t look for a job, being as fit as he appeared in their workout sessions.

Wicks was a capable mechanic and once installed a clutch in Jones’ car, he said.

“He always felt he was getting the shaft out of some kind of deal,” Jones said. “I think he was just tired of working. You know how some people come to the conclusion that they’re just going to live off society’s benefits?”

Jones called Wicks a “big brother,” but their relationship was the exception.

Wicks was a man with few friends and little desire to make new ones. His reluctance to socialize may have stemmed from an acquired distrust of people — especially authority figures, Jones said.

Wicks was arrested on robbery and battery charges while Jones knew him in Sacramento. He also abused cocaine in the '90s, which may have enhanced his violent tendencies, he said.

“His girlfriends were always terrified of him because he could get real mean,” Jones said.

But at his core, Wicks was a good man who was fiercely loyal to his friends, Jones said. When Jones was going through a rough patch, Wicks was the one who motivated him to remain positive, he said.

“He’d come over and cook chicken soup for you, give you a place to stay, lift you up when you were going through something,” he said. “That was the guy I knew.”

Jones hadn’t spoken to Wicks since Jones left Sacramento in the late '90s. He described Wicks as a shrewd spender who lived a financially sound lifestyle. If his disability payments had been reduced, Wicks wouldn’t have reacted well. Every dollar was needed to maintain his lifestyle, Jones said.

“He’d approach people first and ask them to explain the issue before he’d pop off,” he said. “But his fuse was short when he thought you weren’t giving him an opportunity to work it out.”




Federal officers fired 81 shots during Monday's gunbattle outside the Lloyd George U.S. Courthouse, authorities said at a press conference this morning.

Gunman Johnny Lee Wicks, 66, fired five rounds from his 12-gauge shotgun in the exchange, they said.


Investigators believe Wicks was angry at the federal government when he set his apartment on fire and walked the roughly 3 miles to the courthouse, walked through the front doors and started shooting.

He fired three shots inside the building, fatally wounding court security officer Stan Cooper, 72. Cooper and other officers returned fire and forced Wicks from the building.

The gunfight continued outside, with Wicks firing two more shots before being fatally wounded across the street, authorities said.

Officials say the federal marshal who was wounded has been released from the hospital.

Photo courtesy of the R-J


As more information has come in overnight about the shooting at the Lloyd George Federal Courthouse yesterday, I thought it best to keep you updated as we had an incredible amount of reader traffic yesterday and the subject is still of interest today.

From the R-J:

Johnny Lee Wicks believed the system was against him.

When his disability benefits were cut upon his move to Las Vegas, he blamed it on racism, sued the federal government and lost. He appealed. He lost again.

On Monday morning, four months after his case was officially dismissed, the 66-year-old stepped into the federal courthouse in downtown Las Vegas holding a grudge and a shotgun.

"He walked into the courthouse and started shooting," U.S. Sen. John Ensign told reporters after being briefed by authorities.

As the gunman entered the front door of the Lloyd George U.S. Courthouse about 8 a.m., he revealed the shotgun hidden under his black coat and opened fire, FBI Special Agent Joseph Dickey said.

Seven marshals and court security officers returned fire during the ensuing gunbattle, which spilled out of the courthouse and onto Las Vegas Boulevard.

When the gunbattle ended, Wicks lay dead beside the Historic Fifth Street School across the street.

Inside the lobby of the federal courthouse, court security officer Stan Cooper, a 72-year-old retired Las Vegas police officer, lay mortally wounded. He was rushed to University Medical Center with a chest wound, but doctors couldn't save him.

He "never had a chance," a physician with knowledge of the case said.

A 48-year-old deputy U.S. marshal, whose name was not released, was taken to UMC with a gunshot wound to the arm. He was in "good shape," Dickey said.

Investigators believed the gunman acted alone but had not determined a motive for the shooting. Dickey said, "This was not a terrorist event."

Outside the Courthouse Bar & Grill about two blocks away, Jon McGovern was setting up his hot dog stand when he heard two or three "pops" in quick succession, followed by other shots that "went in cycles." He said at least 30 to 40 rounds were fired.

Soon after the gunfire a few dozen people ran toward down Lewis Avenue shouting, "Get down. Get shelter," he said.

Defense lawyer Mario Fenu was on the sidewalk heading toward the federal courthouse when he heard the first pop. Five seconds later he heard five more pops in succession, he said.

When he turned the corner he saw a man who didn't appear to be a police officer in an "attack stance" aiming "a long gun" at the entrance of the building, he said.

The shooter was hiding behind a column.

Fenu said he saw another man behind a column on the far end of the patio, but he didn't know whether the second man was an accomplice, a law enforcement officer or an innocent bystander.

As Fenu ran away, the barrage intensified, he said.

"I go to gun ranges and don't hear that much ammo," Fenu said.

While police cordoned off the area for several blocks, authorities evacuated the courthouse and corralled dozens of potential witnesses in the auditorium of Las Vegas Academy, the fine arts magnet high school two blocks southeast of the federal courthouse.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kate Newman said she was working at her desk on the fifth floor when a call came over the intercom instructing employees to remain in their offices because of "an incident."

About five minutes later, an e-mail was sent out telling people to evacuate the building.

"I got the e-mail late and walked into a SWAT team," Newman said.

Several downtown streets were shut down throughout the day and into the evening, and the Regional Justice Center was closed for the day after the shooting. Both federal and state courts were expected to resume business today.

Meanwhile, federal investigators and Las Vegas police worked to piece together the events of the morning and why it happened.

Authorities did not officially release the name of the gunman, but Wicks was identified by a law enforcement source.

He moved to Las Vegas from Fresno, Calif., in 2007 and rented an apartment at Sunrise Senior Village Apartments, 517 N. 30th St., near Bonanza and Mojave roads.

Shortly after his move, the U.S. Social Security Administration cut his monthly Social Security stipend by about $400 because Nevada does not provide the same state supplement as California, according to the civil rights complaint he filed in federal court.

In his handwritten court documents, Wicks expressed frustration and claimed he was treated poorly because of his race. Wicks complained about a California representative who "doesn't try to hide the way he feels about black people," the complaint states.

Wicks appeared to become more desperate, believing that Social Security officials were unwilling to assist him with his claim.

"This action by this office will make it very hard for me to pay my rent and energy bill," Wicks wrote. "It's hard to believe that a state social worker would treat another human being like this. None of this is legal. Most of what they say is not true."

After Wicks' case was dismissed in March, he appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled the court lacked jurisdiction over the matter. The U.S. District Court dismissed the case for good in September.

Before moving to Las Vegas, Wicks had a criminal history including assault with a deadly weapon, domestic battery and robbery in Sacramento, Calif.

In a 1995 case, Wicks pleaded no contest to domestic battery and the assault with a deadly weapon charge was dismissed. He was sentenced to a 60-day sheriff's work program and three years' probation. Two years later, he violated the probation and was given 31 days in jail, according to Sacramento County court records.

In 1996 Wicks was charged with robbery, but that case was dismissed a month later, court records show.

Wicks had no apparent criminal history in Las Vegas.

Three hours before the shooting, Las Vegas firefighters responded to a closet fire at Wicks' unit at the Sunrise Senior Village Apartments.

The interior of the apartment suffered heavy damage from smoke and flames, but there was no structural damage, property manager Brian Steger said. Several other apartments were evacuated because of smoke, but none was damaged by fire.

Wicks was a quiet resident who lived alone and rarely spoke to anyone, he said.

"Nobody really knew him," he said. "A lot of people were suspicious of him from the beginning because he didn't associate much."

Steger said Wicks didn't spend much time at the apartment.

After the fire, Steger noticed that several of Wicks' possessions -- including a bed and a couch, which had been present at the last inspection -- were missing.

Neighbors Allen and Vivian Smith, both 88, were shocked upon hearing Wicks was the suspect in the downtown shooting.

"My gosh, so he was the one who did the shooting?" she said. "I can't believe it. Right next door to us."

Neither of them knew Wicks' name, but described him as a black man in his early 60s with an affinity for leather jackets and gold chains.

Allen Smith said the timing of the fire was suspicious. Another resident had spotted Wicks leaving the complex shortly before the fire began, Allen Smith said.

Wicks could have intentionally started the fire to create a diversion from what he planned to do at the courthouse, he said, or to destroy his personal belongings in case of his death.

Either way, he said, "I think he wanted to go out with a bang."

About an hour after the shooting, federal agents visited the apartment complex and spoke to residents and employees.

"We told them all we knew," Allen Smith said. "But that wasn't much."

Ensign compared the incident to the recent shootings at Fort Hood in Texas, which took 13 lives, and in Washington, where four police officers were ambushed and killed at a coffee shop.

"Unfortunately, we live in a real crazy world these days," he said. "You never know what goes off in someone's brain to set them off like that."