A judge walking from his car into the county courthouse was shot by a gunman Monday morning but managed to fire back before a probation officer stepped in and ultimately killed the suspect, authorities said.
Jefferson County Judge Joseph Bruzzese Jr. was shot at around 8 a.m. near the courthouse in Steubenville, just across the Ohio River from West Virginia’s northern panhandle, roughly 30 miles (48 kilometres) west of Pittsburgh.
Courthouse video shows both the judge and the gunman firing about five times each, said Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla.
“Whoever thought this could happen here?” Abdalla said, adding that investigators are familiar with the suspect and are checking to see if he had any connection with the judge.
Steubenville City Manager James Mavromatis tells WTOV-TV that Bruzzese was talking after being wounded. He was flown to a Pittsburgh-area hospital.
Investigators didn’t immediately release further information about the judge’s condition or on the suspect. Republican Gov. John Kasich said he was told the judge would survive.
The attack had to be intentional because people know about the reserved spots where judges park, said one of Bruzzese’s judicial colleagues.
Judge Joseph Corabi said he and the county’s two other judges park in reserved spots next to the courthouse in eastern Ohio. Judges then walk a few feet down what’s known as “Courthouse Alley” to a side entrance to the building, said Corabi, the Jefferson County juvenile and probate court judge.
“Everybody knows who parks there. That’s why it’s not an accident what happened. He was clearly an intended target,” Corabi said.
Corabi said Bruzzese is known as an avid hunter. He called him fair, hard-working, well-liked and “a tough son of a gun.”
“He is very intelligent and he can cut to the chase,” Corabi said. “He spots issues and he resolves the issues.”
Bruzzese, 65, hears general and domestic relations cases as one of two judges serving in Jefferson County Common Pleas Court.
Bruzzese has served on that court since 1997, according to Ohio Supreme Court records. He was most recently re-elected in 2014 for another six-year term.
Bruzzese had likely arrived early to review his usual Monday morning batch of legal motions, Corabi said.
Local media reported that the suspect’s body could be seen lying next to a car at the drive-thru of a neighbouring bank. Police said a man who was in the car with him was taken into custody.
The courthouse was closed for the day as local and state authorities helped secure the scene. Jefferson County Commissioner Thomas Graham told WTOV that some courthouse workers witnessed the “tragic situation” and that people would need time to process what had happened.
The state crime lab will help investigate the shooting, said Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine.
The chief justice of the Ohio Supreme Court called the attack a “cowardly ambush” and urged court personnel — especially judges — to take extra precautions.
The attack “reminds us all of the very real potential for violence against judges,” Maureen O’Connor said. “Violence against judges represents an attack on the Rule of Law, the foundation of our country.”