Holder Visits Wheeling

WHEELING – As U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder ate lunch Friday at the bullet-ridden federal building in Wheeling, he had a direct line of sight into a parking lot across the street where Thomas Piccard died Oct. 9 after peppering the building with more than 20 rounds from an assault rifle and a handgun.

Holder visited Wheeling for about three hours Friday to meet with federal authorities and law enforcement agencies.

“Soon after he arrived, we had lunch in an office that overlooked the parking lot where it occurred,” said U. S. Attorney for the Northern District of West Virginia William J. Ihlenfeld II. “I pointed out to him how it all happened. It really hit home with him when he could see the area where the shooting took place.”

Piccard, a former Wheeling police officer, opened fire on the Federal Building at 2:43 p.m. Oct. 9, striking and shattering multiple windows before a responding city officer shot and killed him. Ihlenfeld said Holder praised the Wheeling staff members for their resiliency in working through turmoil caused by the shooting.

“He talked about how 2013 was a particularly bad year for the U.S. Justice Department because of budgetary problems, the sequester and eventual shutdown that lead to employees being furloughed,” Ihlenfeld said. “He said the Wheeling office had it tougher than others around the country because the shooting came during the shutdown.”

Building repairs from the shooting were not a part of Friday’s talk.

“We are finalizing repairs and replacing glass and we will be talking to other agencies within the federal government about improving security to the building,” Ihlenfeld said.

In addition to Ihlenfeld’s staff, Holder met with other local and regional agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the U. S. Marshall’s Service and other state and local police agencies.

They talked about issues that affect the Northern District of West Virginia and the entire country, including federal prison overcrowding, drug abuse problems and steps the federal government is taking to help inmates re-enter society.

“We discussed the significant federal prison population we have in the Northern District,” Ihlenfeld said. “Most people are not aware that we have three federal prison – one at Hazelton in Preston County, one at Morgantown and one in Gilmer County. The Hazelton facility keeps growing and taking in more prisoners. This creates more work for my office on the criminal side and civil side. They keep building new prisons and adding new inmates without appropriating additional money for more attorneys to deal with the additional resulting litigation.”

Ihlenfeld said he and Holder also talked about the significant drug problem in West Virginia and the fact that research shows the state, as a whole, is leading the nation in drug overdose deaths.