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THE TOP STORIES OF 2013: 26 Shots Fired At Federal Building

December 28, 2013
By J.W. JOHNSON JR. - City Editor , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

EDITOR'S NOTE: The past 12 months have been interesting - and at times, trying - for local residents, as natural gas drilling, politics, court cases and numerous other issues dominated the daily headlines. Through Sunday, The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register present the Ohio Valley's top 10 stories of 2013, as voted on by the newspapers' editors.

WHEELING - Just before 2:45 p.m. Oct. 9, Thomas Piccard pulled his vehicle into the parking lot across the street from the Federal Building in Wheeling.

He for out of his vehicle and fired the first of 26 shots into the building, breaking glass and sending onlookers scrambling. Within minutes, law enforcement from across the area converged on Piccard, fatally wounding him.

Article Photos

File photo
A police officer walks from the parking lot across from the Federal Building in downtown Wheeling carrying one of the guns used by Thomas Piccard to shoot the windows of the building.

The entire exchange lasted about six minutes.

Piccard, 55, was a former Wheeling police officer who resigned from the force in July 2000. Following the incident, law enforcement from across the Northern Panhandle converged on the Federal Building, locking down the building itself and keeping a secure radius for several blocks in each direction. The blockades would remain in place for several days, including at night with bright lights shining, as authorities continued to investigate.

However, little information was released on Piccard and his motives. Nearly a month later, representatives from local, state and federal agencies finally released a recap of the day's event.

According to U.S. Attorney William J. Ihlenfeld II, Piccard fired 23 shots from a 7.62 mm-caliber rifle, and three more from a Glock 9 mm pistol before he was fatally struck by returning gunfire from responding officers, about six minutes after the first shots were fired.

Ihlenfeld said Piccard first shot toward the top floors of the glass facade of the Federal Building. When security guards inside walked to the first-floor window to investigate, Piccard fired more rounds which pierced the glass just inches from the guards. Three Federal Building security guards sustained minor injuries from breaking glass. They were treated at a local hospital and released.

Ihlenfeld said it is impossible to know whether Piccard was firing at the guards, or if he could even see them. He said, however, eyewitness reported seeing Piccard wave away vehicles that pulled into the parking lot that day, and that he appeared "calm" in his actions.

About 40 percent of Ihlenfeld's staff had been furloughed due to the federal government shutdown and were not in the building during the shooting.

Ihlenfeld recalled that he heard "what sounded like gunshots and then panic within the office. Members of my staff were crawling on the floor or running office to office telling people to get away from the windows." A "shelter-in-place" procedure was implemented at the Federal Building from the time the first shots were fired until authorities permitted employees to exit their offices.

The southern end of the Federal Building, which houses a post office, was open to the public the day after the shooting. Ihlenfeld said many members of his office staff were left shaken by the shooting and were encouraged to stay at home.

The five pages of writings were found by medical personnel at the hospital where Piccard was pronounced dead. He sustained damage to the arm, heart and lungs, and the fatal bullet pierced his chest cavity and lodged in his ribcage.

Piccard had been living in the Presidential Estates in Bridgeport, where law enforcement officials searching his home the evening of the shooting found a variation of the phrase "Abandon hope all ye who enter this place" in Latin on the exterior of his mobile home. There were no hazards discovered inside the residence.

That was just one of the potential motives for Piccard's actions, as U.S. Attorney William J. Ihlenfeld II cited Piccard's "deep hatred for the federal government" as the primary suspected motive. Neighbors also indicated Piccard had recently been diagnosed with stomach cancer, a motive confirmed by Ihlenfeld. Additionally, the writings found on Piccard's body also showed Piccard recently had his "heart broken" by a woman, while the former police officer was also in deteriorating health.

Piccard's neighbors at a trailer park in Bridgeport said he had lost a lot of weight and had been vomiting blood. Ihlenfeld could not confirm that Piccard had been diagnosed with stomach cancer.

In the months since, no further information on the motive or the content of the letters found on Piccard have been released.

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