U.S. Attorney: Wheeling shooting was about ‘the government itself’

WHEELING, W.Va. — U.S. Attorney Bill Ihlenfeld said the former Wheeling police officer who fired more than two dozen gunshots at the Wheeling Federal Courthouse before being killed Wednesday chose the location for a reason.

“I think it will become clear (through the investigation) that is was a disagreement or a dislike of the federal government.  I think that’s why he chose the target that he chose,” said Ihlenfeld, the U.S. Attorney for West Virginia’s Northern District, on Thursday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”

“I do not believe, in fact I’m confident in saying, he did not have a specific beef with anyone in particular in the federal building. He didn’t have a beef with me or anyone in my office or anyone else that works here.  I think it was more of a general dislike (of the federal government).”

The gunman was identified as Thomas Piccard, 55, of Bridgeport, Ohio, who was a Wheeling police officer until he resigned from the department in 2000.

On Thursday morning, Wheeling Mayor Andy McKenzie would not talk about what prompted Piccard’s resignation 13 years ago.  “We want to make sure when we address the public and explain history and why, unfortunately, we got to this point, that the information is accurate,” McKenzie said.

Piccard’s home in Bridgeport and the vehicle he drove into Wheeling this week were searched Wednesday night into Thursday morning and Ihlenfeld said federal investigators were analyzing all of the evidence gathered.

Ihlenfeld said Piccard had an “assault style” rifle with him, along with extra ammunition that was not used, and a handgun. Other agencies have identified the “assault style” rifle as an AK-47.  A witness said Piccard stopped shooting to reload once.

At this point, Ihlenfeld said he does think Piccard had a specific human target.

“There were individuals on foot and in automobiles in the parking lot where the shooter was set up that he could have shot. He could have targeted those individuals,” said Ihlenfeld. None of those people were shot.

Three court security guards, who were injured by flying glass, were treated and released from Wheeling Hospital.

Ihlenfeld was inside the Wheeling Federal Courthouse at the time Piccard started shooting at the building from across the street before 3 p.m. Wednesday.

“When you’re sitting at your desk, talking on the phone or working on your computer and, all of the sudden, the window right next to your head is struck by gunfire, it’s frightening,” Ihlenfeld said.

“(But) no one in the Wheeling federal building should feel like they were targeted in any way. It was the building itself and the government itself.”

McKenzie said such incidents usually don’t happen in Wheeling. “So much that we see and we read and have an understanding of what’s happening across our country, West Virginia is becoming less and less immune to those kinds of things,” he said.

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