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Man shot to death inside Seattle courthouse

A Seattle police officer runs toward the Federal Courthouse in downtown Seattle on Monday. A man carrying what appeared to be a hand grenade was shot to death in the lobby of the building after he walked inside and made threats, police said.
 (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
A Seattle police officer runs toward the Federal Courthouse in downtown Seattle on Monday. A man carrying what appeared to be a hand grenade was shot to death in the lobby of the building after he walked inside and made threats, police said. (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Curt Woodward Associated Press

SEATTLE – A man carrying a hand grenade and a sheaf of papers including a “living will” was fatally shot by police Monday in the lobby of the downtown Federal Courthouse, authorities said.

The grenade was a dud, but police could not see that as the man held it in his hand, Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske said.

The man, wearing a backpack that he later strapped to his chest, entered the public lobby of the 10-month-old courthouse just before noon. Witnesses said he tried to get past security and began shouting threats, police spokeswoman Christie-Lynne Bonner said.

Kerlikowske said the backpack contained a cutting board.

The man was from Seattle, born in 1952, and “often frequented the courthouse as well as the federal building,” said U.S. Marshal Eric Robertson, adding the man had a “disdain” for the federal government and its policies.

Inside the lobby, a security officer saw the man take the grenade out of his backpack, then try to walk across a ledge next to a pool that blocks public access to a secured area, Robertson said.

Judges, jurors, employees and prisoners in the 23-story federal building were evacuated. Streets surrounding the building also were cordoned off as dozens of police cars responded, jamming noontime traffic.

Meanwhile, security officers tried talking to the man, but he refused to put the grenade down.

Seattle police were called, and after about 25 minutes of negotiations, “the man made a furtive movement,” Robertson said. “At that point the officers had no choice but to stop that threat.”

An officer with a .223-caliber rifle and another with a shotgun each fired once at the man, who fell to the floor still holding the grenade. “It was very clear, immediately after the shots, that the individual was deceased,” Robertson said.

Bomb squad members determined the grenade had been drilled out and was inactive. The man’s body was removed several hours later, the police chief said.

Robertson said the man also had some court documents, but he didn’t describe those papers in detail. But the man had filed complaints with the courts before and was known to be dissatisfied with the federal government in general.

“I believe it’s more of a global government frustration,” Robertson said.

The King County medical examiner’s office said it would not identify the man until today.

Kerlikowske said the two veteran officers who fired the shots were placed on paid administrative leave. They were not immediately identified.

Chay Adams, 27, of Seattle, said she saw police shoot the man.

She was leaving the U.S. Marshals office on the ninth floor where her father is a deputy marshal. “There were a bunch of marshals running toward me with bulletproof vests and weapons … saying it would be in my best interest to leave,” she said.

Adams and about eight other women were evacuated to the fifth floor, where she said she could see down into the atrium lobby. She saw police confront the man, who had been sitting on a bench with a yellow backpack strapped to his chest.

He was nervous and kept clasping his hands, she said, but there was nothing unusual about him.

“If they wouldn’t have known what happened, you wouldn’t have paid any attention to him,” Adams said.

She watched the man for a few minutes, then heard two shots.

“With one shot, the man slumped over, and with the second shot, he slumped all the way over and his head ended up in his lap,” Adams said.

Kim Kingsborough told Northwest Cable News she saw the man in the lobby before the standoff occurred.

“He just stood around for the longest time in the lobby, looking around,” she said, then he tried to sneak by the pool.

As officers approached him, Kingsborough said, the man shouted, “Don’t come near me!”

Elizabeth Piontkowski, 21, of Des Moines, was on jury duty on the 14th floor of the courthouse when she and her fellow jurors were told the building was being evacuated because of a bomb threat.

She and other jurors could see police outside with their guns drawn.

“Then the cops started yelling at us to run and we started running down the street,” she said.

The new federal courthouse opened last August. Many of the major security features of the $171 million high-rise at Seventh Avenue and Stewart Street are disguised. Even glass walls that permit ample sunlight are blast-resistant.

The new courthouse houses the U.S. Marshals Service, judges, support staff and court clerks, as well as the U.S. Attorney’s Office, bankruptcy courts, and probation and pretrial services.

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